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QUAD Summitry with China Minus India

The series of multilateral high-level events in Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand in the month of October - November have seen extensive summitry between the QUAD leaders except for India with China.

While President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a brief interaction during the G20 at one of the social events there was no formal dialogue between the two sides either at the official level or even at the summit level.

This is in direct contrast with other QUAD leaders some of whom had multiple summits with the Chinese leaders President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang.

Here is a review of these meetings focusing on the contentious issues discussed and likely impact on India.

United States China

The United States Readout of President Joe Biden’s Meeting with President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China on November 14th in Bali stated that the US President highlighted, “The two leaders spoke candidly about their respective priorities and intentions across a range of issues. President Biden explained that the United States will continue to compete vigorously with the PRC, including by investing in sources of strength at home and aligning efforts with allies and partners around the world. He reiterated that this competition should not veer into conflict and underscored that the United States and China must manage the competition responsibly and maintain open lines of communication”.

On the Taiwan President Biden while laying out the One China Policy emphasized that, “any unilateral changes to the status quo by either side, and the world has an interest in the maintenance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait”.

President Xi in turn in the statement is said to have, “stressed that the Taiwan question is at the very core of China’s core interests, the bedrock of the political foundation of China-U.S. relations, and the first red line that must not be crossed in China-U.S. relations”.

Importantly on 19 November, President Xi Jinping also had a brief exchange with Vice President Kamala Harris at the latter’s request on the sidelines of the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in Bangkok thus indicating that the US is seeking a sustained engagement with the Chinese leadership at the highest level.

Japan China

In the summit between Japan and China President Xi has highlighted the different systems of the two countries and called for, “respect each other, increase understanding and dispel mistrust”.

Prime Minister Kishida in turn also expressed strong concern to Xi about the situation in the East China Sea, including the Senkaku Islands and raised the provocative military actions by China, such as the launching of Chinese ballistic missiles into waters near Japan, with some landing within Japan's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

To this President Xi said, “On the issue of maritime and territorial disputes, we should abide by the consensus of principles already reached, and show political wisdom and commitment to properly manage differences."

Australia China

In the interaction with the Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, President Xi highlighted that differences have emerged between the two countries in the recent past which need to be resolved. Xi said, “In the past few years, however, this relationship has encountered difficulties, which is the last thing we want to see”. “Both as important countries in the Asia-Pacific region, China and Australia need to improve, uphold and further develop the relationship,” he added.

The Australian statement on the other hand indicated that the meeting between the Prime Minister and President Xi Jinping on the margins of the G20 Summit Meeting, “was another important step towards the stabilisation of the Australia-China relationship”.

“China is a major power with global interests and it was valuable to exchange views on challenges to international peace and security, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” the statement added.

Mr Albanese also “reaffirmed the Australian Government’s view that it is in the interests of both sides to continue on the path of stabilising and developing our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership”.

Importantly on November 14th Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at request and talked to him on the sidelines of Leaders' Meetings on East Asia Cooperation in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Wither India?

While outcome of the summits between the QUAD members and China will be followed up by India being the odd one out may raise some questions on engagement with the grouping as well as with China.

Quite apparently India’s policy that unless status quo to pre May 2020 is restored on the Line of Actual Control by China in Eastern Ladakh, normal engagement cannot be restored seems to be continuing.

In this sense there could be a variation in the approach by other QUAD leaders who during the summits have highlighted differences that are concerns with relations with China to Xi.

Has India lost this opportunity of engaging at the highest level and gaining a better understanding of the President Xi’s perspectives on the issue of LAC and conveying own remains to be seen?

This distinction with other QUAD members – the United States and Australia in particular could be attributed to the fact that they do not have any direct security issues with China and while Japan has the Senkaku Islands thorn but there is no ongoing confrontation between the security forces of the two countries.

Now that the QUAD members have reached out to China and brief pleasantries by the two leaders – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping at G 20, will there be a review of the relationship remains to be seen?

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