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Australia, US signal support for Quad at their 2+2 talks

Started in 2007, the Quad disintegrated after Australia pulled out for fear of upsetting China, which continues to view the quad as a body committed to containing and countering its influence.

world Updated: Jul 26, 2018 10:47 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Australia,US,Quad talks
Indian and U.S. national flags flutter in front of the Presidential Palace, in New Delhi in 2006. An impression had begun gaining ground that New Delhi seemed less interested in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. (REUTERS)

The US and Australia have “welcomed” the recent meeting of an informal consultative body they formed with India and Japan, called the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue — a move that will be heard and noted in New Delhi as it weighs its options about the grouping.

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and secretary of defence James Mattis hosted their Australian counterparts Julie Bishop and Marise Payne at a two-day ministerial held at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Their version of the 2+2 annual meeting, called Australia-US Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN), ended on Tuesday.

“They welcomed the recent US-Australia-India-Japan consultations on the Indo-Pacific in Singapore,” a joint statement issued on Tuesday said.

Started in 2007, the Quad disintegrated after Australia pulled out for fear of upsetting China, which continues to view the quad as a body committed to containing and countering its influence. It was renewed last year and officials of the four countries met for the first time at a “working level” on the sidelines of the ASEAN meetings in Manila in November.

A second meeting of senior officials took place in Singapore in June. But an impression had begun gaining ground around then that New Delhi seemed less interested.

“New Delhi may be getting cold feet,” Derek Grossman, a former US defence department official and an expert with think tank RAND Corporation, argued in a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine headlined “India is the weakest link in the Quad”.

Grossman traces the beginning of India’s perceived reticence to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Wuhan, China to meet President Xi Jinping. Shortly afterwards, India turned down Australia’s request to participate in the Malabar exercises with the US and Japan, the other members of the quad, Grossman said.

Grossman argued that Modi’s speech at the Shangri-La dialogue in Singapore was further evidence, citing this quotation: “India does not see the Indo-Pacific Region as a strategy or as a club of limited members.”

Citing a few other development, Grossman wrote, “Taken together, these developments are no doubt troubling for the future sustainability of Indian participation in the Quad.”

Rick Rossow of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a leading US think tank, said: “I do think it is important—particularly for Australia—to publicly reiterate interest in the Quad.

“Delhi privately voices concerns about Australia’s commitment to Quadrilateral security cooperation, pointing to Australia’s withdrawal from the Quad over a decade ago.”

He added: “If India still resists deepening Quadrilateral cooperation, the other partners will be able to assess the true reasons for this reluctance.” And that is it unwillingness to alarm China, which is the undeclared target of this grouping.”

With Australia signalling it’s on board this time, as reflected in the joint-statement, India may not be able to cite its past behaviour to explain away its perceived reticence.

First Published: Jul 26, 2018 09:48 IST