QUAD Foreign Ministers Meeting Sidesteps Ukraine in Joint Statement, Focuses on Indo-Pacific, Pandemic and Brings into Sharp Relief India’s Growing Stature

By Sri Krishna

Foreign Affairs

New Delhi: The Foreign Ministers of the four nation QUAD – India, US, Australia and Japan – at their fourth meeting held in Melbourne focused on a wide range of issues  with the grouping asserting its “commitment to supporting Indo Pacific countries’ efforts to advance a free and open Indo-Pacific – a region which is inclusive and resilient, and in which states strive to protect the interests of their people, free from coercion,” while sidestepping Ukraine.

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What is significant is the comment by White House that India is the driving force of QUAD days after foreign ministers of the countries, which are part of the grouping, met in Melbourne. It does show that India is being recognized as a power in the region and that any grouping like QUAD having India as its member adds weight to its standing.

During the Melbourne summit, foreign ministers of the countries had discussed the destabilising role of China in the Indo-Pacific region and Russian aggression in Ukraine. US Secretary of State Tony Blinken and  Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar were part of the discussions.

“We recognise that India is a like-minded partner and leader in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, active in and connected to the Southeast Asia, a driving force of the Quad, and an engine for regional growth and development,” White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters in Washington clearly bringing into sharp focus the growing stature of India.

“It was an opportunity to discuss Russia’s ongoing threat to Ukraine. They discussed the threat that Russia’s aggression poses not only to Ukraine but to the entire international rules-based order, which has provided a foundation for decades of shared security and prosperity for the region and around the globe,” she said about the Melbourne meeting.

“Throughout his meetings with the Quad partners, Secretary Blinken discussed the challenges Russia poses to the rules-based on international order and our readiness to support our European allies,” she said.

The US, she said, will continue to build a strategic partnership in which the US and India work together to promote stability in South Asia, collaborate in new domains such as health, space, cyberspace, deepen the economic and technology cooperation, and contribute to a free and open Indo-Pacific.

The White House refrained from responding to a question on the recent remarks by the Indian minister that India only abides by the multilateral sanctions and does not follow sanctions imposed by individual countries.

The meeting sent a clear signal to Beijing underlining their pursuit of a “shared vision” to uphold “a rules based international order, free from coercion – one based on respect or international integrity and sovereignty.”

Responding to this stance by QUAD, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson called the Quad mechanism “only a tool to contain China.” “This is a deliberate move to stoke confrontation and undermine international solidarity and cooperation,” spokesperson Zhao Lijan said in Beijing, calling on Quad countries to “abandon the outdated cold war mentality.”

As the ministers said in a statement that the meeting advanced the Quad’s positive and ambitious agenda focusing  on working closely with Indo-Pacific partners to address the region’s most important challenges. Working together as the Quad, they felt was more effective in delivering practical support to the region.

The Ministers welcomed the progress on the practical cooperation among them  to address regional challenges, including humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR), maritime security, counter-terrorism, countering disinformation and cyber security. Being strong supporters of ASEAN unity and centrality, and the ASEAN-led architecture, QUAD said it would continue to support ASEAN partners to advance the practical implementation of ASEAN’s Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. The Outlook’s principles are fundamental to regional stability and prosperity and will be key to guiding the region’s economic and political future.

The QUAD foreign ministers meeting acknowledged the importance of sub-regional mechanisms and institutions, including in the Mekong sub-region and asserted that they would   continue to support Cambodia in its important role as 2022 ASEAN Chair.

With the world continuing to battle deadly pandemic COVID-19 which has been on for over two years, Quad partners have collectively provided more than 500 million vaccine doses. Together, they have pledged to donate more than 1.3 billion vaccine doses globally.

It is to India’s credit and the key role it has been playing in tackling this deadly virus, that the QUAD grouping expressed its satisfaction  with the Quad Vaccine Partnership’s rapid progress in expanding vaccine production at the Biological E Ltd facility in India, which aims to deliver at least 1 billion vaccines by the end of 2022.

The statement issued by the Foreign Ministers said the QUAD members looked forward to the delivery of the first batch of Quad-supported vaccines in the first half of this year.

“We are assisting to train healthcare workers, combat vaccine hesitancy and augment infrastructure, especially cold chain systems, for ‘last mile’ vaccine delivery. We are working to identify and address vaccine gaps and barriers exacerbated by gender, disability and social inequities, and ensure safe, effective, affordable and quality-assured vaccination coverage in hard-to-reach areas.”

We welcome the timely initiative for coordinating the response to combat the COVID pandemic under a Global Action Plan for Enhanced Engagement.

Even while the grouping has been strengthening HADR cooperation, it has since 2004  collaborated in response to the Indian Ocean tsunami, responded quickly and effectively to natural disasters in the Indo-Pacific. The grouping said that natural disasters and the pandemic sweeping across the globe brought into sharp relief  the need to build and maintain resilience against such events.

Taking note that  international law, peace, and security in the maritime domain underpins the development and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific, it stressed on the  importance of adherence to international law, particularly as reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to meet challenges to the maritime rules-based order, including in the South and East China Seas.

QUAD said it was determined to deepen engagement with regional partners, including through capacity-building and technical assistance, to strengthen maritime domain awareness; protect their ability to develop offshore resources, consistent with UNCLOS; ensure freedom of navigation and overflight; combat challenges, such as illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing; and promote the safety and security of sea lines of communication.

Taking note of the problem of terrorism, QUAD members are exchanging information on ever-evolving threats and working with Indo-Pacific countries, and in multilateral fora, to counter all forms of terrorism and violent extremism. It denounced the use of terrorist proxies for cross-border terrorism and urged countries to work together to eliminate terrorist safe havens; disrupt terrorist networks and the infrastructure and financial channels which sustain them; and halt cross-border movement of terrorists.

Apparently with the terrorist faced by India along the border with Pakistan on the Line of Control (LOC), the grouping called all nations  to ensure that territory under their control is not used to launch terror attacks and to expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators of such attacks.

It reiterated its condemnation of terrorist attacks in India, including 26/11 Mumbai and Pathankot attacks and reaffirmed UNSC Resolution 2593 (2021) that Afghan territory should not be used to threaten or attack any country, shelter or train terrorists, or plan or finance terrorist acts, with such ungoverned spaces being a direct threat to the safety and security of the Indo-Pacific.

“We are committed to promoting international peace and stability in cyberspace, and to helping build the capacity of regional countries to implement the UN Voluntary Framework for Responsible State Behaviour in Cyberspace,” the resolution adopted by the Foreign Ministers said.

It reaffirmed its commitment to upholding and strengthening the rules-based multilateral trading system, with the World Trade Organization at its core opposing coercive economic policies and practices that run counter to this system and will work collectively to foster global economic resilience against such actions.

The grouping expressed its  commitment to strengthen  diplomatic efforts so that the vision for technologies, guided by the Quad Principles on Technology Design, Development, Governance, and Use, will be further shared by all like-minded nations.