US deputy secretary of state Stephen Biegun said the Quad remains a “somewhat undefined entity” and it was premature to talk about expanding it.(AFP PHOTO.)
US deputy secretary of state Stephen Biegun said the Quad remains a “somewhat undefined entity” and it was premature to talk about expanding it.(AFP PHOTO.)

Quad should be formalised for members to deal with global challenges: Stephen Biegun

US deputy secretary of state Stephen Biegun was on a week-long visit to India and Bangladesh last week. The top US diplomat also criticised China for not doing enough to help find a long-term solution to the issue of more than 8,00,000 Rohingya refugees currently sheltering in Bangladesh.
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Rezaul H Laskar | Edited by Sohini Sarkar
UPDATED ON OCT 20, 2020 09:41 PM IST

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad should become more regularised and formalised so that there are modalities for cooperation and interoperability among its members for dealing with global challenges, US deputy secretary of state Stephen Biegun said on Tuesday.

Biegun, who was on a week-long visit to India and Bangladesh last week, was speaking ahead of the India-US 2+2 ministerial dialogue expected to be held during October 26-27 and the Malabar military exercise in November that will be joined by the navies of all the Quad members – Australia, India, Japan and the US.

The top US diplomat also criticised China for not doing enough to help find a long-term solution to the issue of more than 8,00,000 Rohingya refugees currently sheltering in Bangladesh, particularly because of its close ties with Myanmar.

Biegun acknowledged that the US currently has “no designed policy for Quad expansion” and isn’t “advocating for Quad-plus” though it has mutual defence agreements with partners in the Indo-Pacific region such as Australia, Japan, South Korea and Thailand.

However, he added: “It is our view that in the passage of time, the Quad should become more regularised and, at some point, formalised as well, as we really begin to understand what the parameters of this cooperation are and how we can regularise it.”

Such regularisation, he said, will bolster cooperation within the Quad and with other countries in the Indo-Pacific, especially if there is a framework for dealing with crises, irrespective of whether they are natural disasters or economic and security issues.

“What you want to do is have a certain modality of cooperation, interoperability and understanding [of] the respective strengths that each partner can bring in facing any number of global challenges,” Beigun said.

Since its revival in 2017, the Quad has gained in importance for its four members in tandem with the rise of an increasingly assertive and aggressive China. The grouping was elevated to the ministerial level in September last year and India on Monday formally invited Australia to join the Malabar naval exercise conducted annually with the US and Japan.

Biegun said the Quad remains a “somewhat undefined entity” and it was premature to talk about expanding it. However, there is a “natural affinity” among numerous nations in the Indo-Pacific and an opportunity for close engagement with partners in South Asia such as Bangladesh, he added.

“We’re not necessarily advocating for Quad-plus but rather a continuation and regularisation of the Quad with an eventual goal of understanding how it could be best formalised and then also welcoming cooperation with any country in the Indo-Pacific that’s committed to defending a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said.

Referring to his visit to Bangladesh, where he met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and foreign minister AK Abdul Momen, Biegun said an important issue of discussion in Dhaka was the fate of more than 8,00,000 Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar after being “subjected to unacceptable violence and brutality”.

The US hopes to see the “same level of generosity and the same level of clarity of messages to the government of Myanmar from other partners or other nations in the Indo-Pacific, particularly China, which unfortunately has done very little to help resolve the Rohingya issue,” he said.

Biegun added that much more should be expected from China, considering its “proximity to...this humanitarian catastrophe”.

He also said the outcome of the US presidential election is unlikely to impact the overall relationship with India because presidents from both the Republican and Democratic parties have worked to improve relations with New Delhi. “The real opening began with president [Bill] Clinton, it accelerated under president [George] Bush, it continued under president [Barack] Obama and its accelerating again with President [Donald] Trump,” he said.

The values of the two biggest democracies steer them in a similar direction and there are natural convergences of interests since both countries face many of the same challenges globally, he said. “There are many sinews that tie us together and it makes me confident that this relationship is much bigger than any one political party,” he added.

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