Infra and maritime security top agenda at virtual Quad meeting
Senior officials of the four members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad on Thursday discussed ways to take forward cooperation in areas such as infrastructure, maritime security and humanitarian aid in order to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.
The virtual meeting of officials from India, Australia, Japan and the US also reviewed progress in key areas such as the Quad vaccine partnership, critical and emerging technologies and climate change. During the grouping’s first summit in March, the Quad decided to set up working groups focused on these three areas.
Thursday’s meeting was a follow-up to the meeting of foreign ministers on February 18 and the virtual Quad leaders summit on March 12. The external affairs ministry said the officials discussed the wide-ranging impact of Covid-19 in the Indo-Pacific and the importance of collaborative efforts to contain the pandemic and ensure health security and a quick economic recovery.
The officials explored the possibility of collaboration in resilient supply chains, emerging and critical technologies, maritime security, cyber security, counter-terrorism, infrastructure and connectivity, higher education, climate change and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, the ministry added.
Japan’s foreign ministry said in a readout that the officials concurred on advancing practical cooperation on these issues to achieve a free and open Indo-Pacific. The officials also exchanged views on regional issues such as the situation in North Korea, the East and South China Seas and Myanmar.
A statement from the US state department said the “four democracies acknowledged that global security and prosperity depends on the region remaining inclusive, resilient, and healthy”.
The officials also examined ways to advance cooperation such as strategic challenges confronting the region, countering disinformation, promoting democracy and human rights, strengthening international institutions such as the UN and related bodies, and “supporting countries vulnerable to coercive actions in the Indo-Pacific”, the US statement added.
The Quad vaccine partnership was created to manufacture vaccines developed by the US in India with funding from the American and Japanese development banks. These jabs were to be distributed among developing countries across the Indo-Pacific with Australia’s logistics chain.
The members of Quad were looking to start the distribution of the vaccines as early as the second quarter of this year, but these plans suffered a setback after India was hit hard by a second wave of Covid-19 infections in March and all vaccine stocks were repurposed for the domestic vaccination programme.
The Quad members are now hoping to get the initiative rolling by early 2022, especially to counter China, which has taken the lead in delivering jabs to South and Southeast Asian countries either as donations or commercial supplies.
During the meeting, the officials welcomed the fact that a free and open Indo-Pacific as a “vision for the peace and prosperity of the region and its importance in the post-Covid world is increasing”, the readout from Japan’s foreign ministry said.
This vision has spread in the world community, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and Europe, and the officials reaffirmed the importance of broadening cooperation with more countries for its further achievement, the readout added.
The officials reaffirmed their strong support for Asean’ unity and centrality and the Asean-led regional architecture, as well as full support for Asean’s Indo-Pacific policy.
The officials agreed to work towards holding an in-person summit by the end of this year, as well as a foreign minister’s meeting at least once a year.
The meeting was joined by Vani Rao, joint secretary (Americas) and Naveen Srivastava, additional secretary (East Asia) from the external affairs ministry, deputy minister for foreign policy Masataka Okano and deputy director general (Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau) Kazuya Endo from Japan’s foreign ministry, Justin Hayhurst, deputy secretary (Indo-Pacific Group) and Lauren Bain, assistant secretary (ASEAN and regional architecture branch) from Australia’s foreign ministry, and Richard Buangan from the bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs and Dean Thompson, acting assistant secretary (South and Central Asian Affairs) from the US state department.