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A tale of two summits: Quad under a Chinese shadow & Davos searching for a solution to Russia

Quad's message from Tokyo was of solidarity and the World Economic Forum's Switzerland meeting was more political than ever. Both were concerned about the health of geopolitics.

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Against the backdrop of deepening global frictions, this week saw the hosting of two key international events — the second in-person Quad Summit in Tokyo and the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Switzerland. Though the events were held in two different parts of the world, the attendees were largely concerned with the same idea: geopolitical health of the world.

The Quad Summit, held on 24 May, saw the meeting of four partners: India, US, Japan, and Australia. A photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi walking ahead of other leaders down a flight of stairs became an example of “leading from the front”. But apart from the optics, the grouping outlined new collaborations in the areas of technology, climate action, disaster prevention, counter-terrorism and “illegal fishing” — almost all of which are concerned with the actions of China in the Indo-Pacific.

Take illegal fishing: China is reportedly the source of 80-95 per cent of illegal fishing in the Indo-Pacific. The Quad’s launch of the ‘Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness’ seeks to counter this and other “dubious operations” of the Chinese maritime militia by using advanced satellite imagery and technology.

Asserting that the Quad partnership is a “force for good”, the message from Tokyo was one of solidarity at a time when the world, still recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic, has been shaken by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Similarly, the WEF annual meeting, held from 22-26 May, was more political than ever. Compared to last year’s theme, ‘The Great Reset’, which was mainly concerned with post-pandemic economic recovery, this year’s theme was ‘History at a Turning Point’. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tuned into this year’s event via video call and said that the words “turning point” have “become more than just a rhetorical figure of speech”.

Sure, the WEF summit has long had an image problem with billionaires flying in on their private planes to discuss climate action at a ski resort. But if we look at the event less as a source for solutions and more as a platform, it’s clear to see how the geopolitics, specifically the Ukraine war, permeated almost all discussions — the state of the world economy, the global food and energy crisis and climate action were discussed parallel to the war.

That’s why the Quad summit and the meeting in Davos are ThePrint’s Newsmakers of the Week.

Also read: With Russia-China bombers, Quad has to be all for one and one for all. Nothing less will do

Shadow of China, Russia over Quad

The Quad summit in Tokyo was attended by PM Modi, US President Joe Biden, Japanese PM Fumio Kishida and Australia’s newly elected PM Anthony Albanese. But there was one attendee that didn’t necessarily need to be present: China.

Without naming Beijing, the Quad leaders said that their countries will adhere to international law in order to meet “challenges to the maritime rules-based order, including in the East and South China Seas”.

“We strongly oppose any coercive, provocative or unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo and increase tensions in the area, such as the militarisation of disputed features, the dangerous use of coast guard vessels and maritime militia, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore resource exploitation activities,” said the leaders’ joint statement.

China and Russia’s shadow over the Quad summit was clear. On the day of the summit, the two nations launched their first joint military exercise by flying bomber flights over the Sea of Japan. They almost entered Japan’s airspace.

Though the Quad has repeatedly said it is not an alliance against any one country, many see it as a group to counter growing maritime aggression and other Chinese activities in the Indo-Pacific region.

Let’s not forget that the summit came weeks after China inked a security pact with Solomon Islands, a move that irked Canberra, Washington and others as they fear Beijing could use the island nation to build a military base. Not to mention, a troubling report emerged earlier this week that China is seeking a region-wide deal with almost a dozen Pacific Island nations, covering policing, security and data communications cooperation.

Is this China trying to build its own squad?

Also read: Davos meetings are full of potential but rarely full of solutions

Russia, NATO at Davos

The WEF meeting has received a bad reputation for being ineffective, irrelevant and one mainly for global elites. But even an event that seems out of touch with reality couldn’t shake the shadow of Moscow.

At the annual meeting, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz reminded that it would be wrong to “switch off” and that nations must think about Ukraine every day. He didn’t mince his words with regard to Finland and Sweden, which he said would be welcomed into NATO with “open arms”.

The Ukrainian leadership also had a strong voice at Davos. Apart from President Zelenskyy, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba via video call told attendees that Kyiv still has an urgent need for weapon supplies.

Even Indian commerce minister Piyush Goyal had to defend New Delhi’s decision to ban the export of wheat and sugar.

“India never ever was a traditional player in the international wheat market. Two years ago, we started with a modest two million tonnes of wheat export. Last year we did about 7 million tonnes,” said Goyal. “Basically this was a little surplus that we had found, available and that got sold but even within that, it was largely in the last two months after the war situation developed between Russia and Ukraine.”

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger courted controversy at Davos for saying Ukraine must cede land to Russia. “Negotiations need to begin in the next two months before it creates upheavals and tensions that will not be easily overcome. Ideally, the dividing line should be a return to the status quo ante. Pursuing the war beyond that point would not be about the freedom of Ukraine, but a new war against Russia itself,” the 99-year-old said.

Many Ukrainians were stung by Kissinger’s words, some of whom termed him a “Davos panicker”.

Between the global food and energy crisis, Kissinger’s comment and the strong presence of the Ukrainian leadership at the event, it’s clear that the WEF summit, just like the Quad, was similarly concerned with the re-drawing of the world order and how to respond to it.

Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant)

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