Expanding Quad to encompass public-private partnership

Building on the momentum of Jaishankar’s visit this week, the time is right to take this US-India relationship innovation regional, particularly elevating the private-public level cooperation to Quad.External affairs minister S Jaishankar’s ongoing visit to the United States (US) is focused on how the two countries can work to find solutions to global issues, with the pandemic and vaccines topping the list.

That message — coming ahead of the G-7 summit in June and an expected in-person summit meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) later this year — acknowledges how US-India cooperation in response to Covid-19 provides a template for regional cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

The evolution of Quad reinforces a broader reality as the world confronts the coronavirus pandemic. While the revival of the arrangement, termed Quad 2.0, is motivated by geopolitical and defence imperatives in the Indo-Pacific, it has natural roots as a template for structured cooperation in non-military domains, including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief that can and should run parallel to and strengthen the wider geopolitical agenda. This soft power element harks back to Quad’s origins as a response to the Asian tsunami in 2004.

Recent Covid-19-focused bilateral cooperation between the US and India further testifies to the importance of this humanitarian aspect. When the US was encountering a spike of Covid-19 infections in 2020, India pitched in by providing personal protective equipment (PPE) kits, masks and disposables as well as mobilising the production of hydroxychloroquine by Indian drug manufacturers. This support was deeply appreciated by Americans and the US government.

In a back-to-the-future moment in Quad, India is now facing a tsunami-level challenge from a second wave and the US has responded in kind, mobilising aid. The US government, American companies and the Indian-American community have coordinated efforts and provided oxygen tanks, oxygen generators, drugs and disposables as well as technical support.

A defining feature of this two-way collaboration is the contribution from corporations and industry associations in both countries to support their respective government initiatives. The sense of responsible business playing a core role in international humanitarian and disaster relief – that is compassionate and rises to the needs of the moment – will define the new corporate social responsibility paradigm and should be sustained by a more structured public-private partnership.