On March 12th, Leaders of the “Quad”- Australia-India-Japan-United States met in a virtual summit. In the context of this summit, I conducted an email interview with Steve Clemons. Steve Clemons is Editor-at-Large for The Hill. He is an MSNBC Contributor and comments frequently on politics, economics, and foreign affairs on national television and radio outlets. Besides, he has also been a part of the World Economic Forum’s Annual Davos meeting. Clemons is also publisher of the widely-read political blog, The Washington Note.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
1) What are the major takeaways of the recent Quad Summit?
The key takeaways are that the President of the United States, Joe Biden, is putting emphasis on multilateral discussions with other leaders about regional stability and democracy promotion in the Indo-Pacific. This is a change in tone and style from the last President. While China was not explicitly mentioned, the reason for the meeting is to demonstrate that core nations in the Indo-Pacific are talking and are concerned about regional stability and oppose any country, read China, from disrupting the status quo. This was an optics meeting, but an important one.
2) What does the Quad Summit signify for US engagement in the Indo- Pacific region?
Both the Quad Summit of four key regional heads of government followed by a trip by Secretary of State Blinken and Secretary of Defense Austin to Japan and Korea — as well as a key national security meeting with Chinese leaders in Alaska — demonstrate that the U.S. is reengaging in the security and economic contours of the Indo-Pacific. This is a demonstration of American attention and engagement, where before the previous White House often communicated disinterest and even the notion that regional security was not a concern of the U.S. The Quad Summit is an inflection point for US attention in the region and a turning point for dialogue between anchor stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific concerned about Chinese domestic behavior and aggression regionally.
3) What is your opinion on the declared cooperation of the Quad Countries for providing vaccines against Covid- 19?
I think it is a step forward, but there is still a lurking vaccine nationalism today that is preventing the broader and fairer distribution of vaccines globally, particularly lesser developed countries. But the statement is a contribution to getting vaccines to developing countries. It should be noted that it is recognized in the US and globally how vital India has been in the R&D and clinical trial dimensions of Covid-19 vaccine development.
4) Could you give me a broad-brush picture of the Biden administration’s approach towards India?
Really not my area of expertise — but my sense from afar is that the administration wants to promote quality economic and security engagement with India. They want to find a way for India to be a more constructive partner on climate change remediation strategies — and there is a sense that India has not been a partner in that process. They want to see responsible nuclear energy development that remains for non-military purposes. I think the Biden team sees India as a vital rising global economy and population center — but that it flirts with theocratic scaffolding regarding its national policies, and that is disconcerting to the Biden team. I think you will see serious engagement, but also some ‘tough love’ at moments from Biden to Modi regarding the character of India’s democracy.
5) After difficulties on the immigration issues, do you predict a restoration of immigration, student and gig visas for Indians due to the new Bill and other reforms?
Eventually I do see restoration of student and J- and H1B visas for Indian citizens, in parts because of the demands from US universities and US high tech and biotech firms who need the expertise from Indian PhDs, innovators, and others. I don’t think that this will happen immediately – but the tech community has put restoration of ‘talent flow’ into US universities and firms at a very high spot on its priority list. I think that will have impact. The Biden team will build up and restore across the board immigration reform that brings more people from abroad into the U.S., in contrast to the Trump administration working to strangle this flow to very low levels.
6) Could you tell me about the other emerging areas of Indo-US cooperation?
I think that there is growing contact and discussion on military to military concerns – and then discussion with India on a wide variety of other transnational issues. These include climate, trade, migration, and more. But one of the areas I hear a lot about from folks like former State Department official R. Nicholas Burns, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and others is now the trust-building in US-India nuclear energy cooperation can become a foundation for broader trust-building between the two countries. This sounds a bit too narrow to me given the scale and size of India’s footprint in the world, but this is on of the topics that pops up a lot in Washington.