Quad focused on action, not talk, says Australian envoy ahead of ministers’ meet

Australian high commissioner Barry O’Farrell said the Quad foreign ministers’ meeting at a time when all Quad countries are experiencing the third Covid wave speaks volumes of the commitment of the ministers and the countries to have an in-person meeting
Australian high commissioner Barry O’Farrell said last year’s Quad Leaders Summit in Washington is the best sign yet that this is a permanent body that’s focused on action, not talk. (Twitter/@barryofarrell)
Australian high commissioner Barry O’Farrell said last year’s Quad Leaders Summit in Washington is the best sign yet that this is a permanent body that’s focused on action, not talk. (Twitter/@barryofarrell)
Published on Feb 08, 2022 09:00 PM IST
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NEW DELHI: The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) is a permanent body “focused on action, not talk”, and the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines across the Indo-Pacific is expected to be one of the key issues to be discussed when foreign ministers of the grouping meet in Melbourne this week, Australian high commissioner Barry O’Farrell has said.

Further growth of Quad, the finalisation of a bilateral comprehensive economic cooperation agreement and continued cooperation in critical areas such as cyber technology and cyber-security will be among priority areas in India-Australia relations for this year, O’Farrell said in an interview.

The meeting of foreign ministers of Australia, India, Japan and the US, to be held in Melbourne during February 10-11, will also help set the agenda for the Quad Leaders Summit to be hosted by Japan in the first half of the year, he added.

“I think last year’s meeting in Washington of the [Quad] leaders is the best sign yet that this is a permanent body that’s focused on action, not talk. And it’s focused on action directed at some of the most consequential problems we’re facing, whether it’s health, climate change, and the cyber and other security challenges that we face,” O’Farrell said.

“But first and foremost, the fact that [the foreign ministers are meeting] at this time, when all of the Quad countries are experiencing the third wave [of Covid-19], it speaks volumes of the commitment of the ministers and the countries to have an in-person meeting,” he said. It is also the first sign of a return to normal and more face-to-face meetings, one of the benefits of which is greater security and confidence when geopolitical issues may be discussed, he added.

The Quad Vaccine Partnership plans to roll out more 1.3 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines globally by the end of 2022. Most of these jabs will be made in India with US and Japanese funding and Australia will provide logistics for delivery.

The four Quad members have so far delivered 485 million doses, including 18.5 million doses from Australia, 14.2 million doses from India, 42 million doses from Japan and 413 million doses from the US.

Asked about Australia’s priorities for the relationship with India during 2022, O’Farrell said these included further growth of the Quad, the realisation of an “interim agreement, but hopefully the final agreement for a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement”, and continued cooperation in critical areas such as cyber-security and cyber technology.

He reiterated Australia’s decision to fund a centre of excellence for critical and emerging technology and to open a new consulate in Bengaluru, and highlighted the potential for “growth in education in both directions”.

“We reopened our borders to students at the end of November. A third of all students have returned from India. We expect to see continued strong growth there, but the national education policy also gives us an opportunity to have students coming the other way...,” he said.

Australia is also eyeing growth in tourist arrivals from India following its decision to unlock the country’s borders to tourists from February 21. “Before Covid, growth in tourist numbers from India was the highest of any country coming to Australia. We would expect that to continue, because with India now being our second largest source of migration after the UK, there are many relatives of Indian citizens in Australia, families, parents, and they like to visit each other,” O’Farrell said.

Australia was among the first countries to call for the restoration of status quo on the Line of Actual Control following the start of the India-China standoff in 2020, and O’Farrell acknowledged that China’s actions across the region continue to be a concern.

“It concerns us because as we continue to say around the Quad, we’re a country that supports an Indo-Pacific that is free, open and hopefully economically prosperous, but also one that operates on the basis of rules and norms. And when it comes to international affairs, the system works because everyone signs up. The system doesn’t work when people refuse to abide by the rules and norms or by the arbitration,” he said.

“We know the Philippines prosecuted the UNCLOS issue in relation to the South China Sea. We know that the arbitral hearing ruled in their favour, and one would expect, like any other umpire’s decision, that should be respected. That’s certainly the view of the future of the Indo-Pacific that India, Australia, members of the Quad and...the vast majority of countries in the region are looking to secure,” he added.

At the same time, he said, Australia is “happy to deal with China”. He added, “We’ve regretted the actions of China over the past 18 months. But that said, whilst clearly, Australia would like to renew its trading links with China, as it likes to renew trading links with other countries, we haven’t let the grass grow under our feet.”

The latest figures show that despite the loss of part of the China market, Australia made up for it in other areas.

“The happy news...is that if you were to ask people in the street or in business houses in Australia where they see the future, they’d say India. People in Australia are largely conditioned by the growing diaspora, are more interested at all levels in India, both commercially [and] from a tourist perspective. I think increasingly, given that we have people of Indian origin in our politics...we’re are increasingly becoming India-centric,” O’Farrell said.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2022