The Quad grouping fills a “very important gap” that has emerged in contemporary times and New Delhi has clarity on its membership in it, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said, re-emphasising India’s support to a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific amid China’s actions in the region.
India, the US, Japan and Australia constitute the Quadrilateral security dialogue or Quad. China has been wary of the Quad that was revived in late 2017. Beijing’s suspicions have increased since the four countries upgraded the forum to the ministerial level in 2019.
“Quad today fills a very important gap that has emerged in contemporary times, where there are global or regional requirements, which cannot be filled by a single country. It cannot even be filled by one bilateral relationship, and which is not being addressed at the multilateral level,” Jaishankar said after concluding key meetings in Washington on Friday.
Speaking to reporters at the conclusion of a two-day engagement with the Biden administration in back-to-back meetings, the external affairs minister also noted that he underscored India’s desire to ramp up production of Covid-19 vaccines at many of his meetings, his top objective for the visit, as the US held an “absolutely indispensable” position in the supply chain.
Jaishankar is the first Indian cabinet minister to visit the US since Joe Biden became the president on January 20.
His other objectives for the visit were to convey India’s appreciation for “very strong solidarity” shown by the US with India as it deals with the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, and to engage with a new administration at a cabinet level and, as the minister put it, they have their own world view and “they need to hear ours”. Jaishankar on Friday met with US secretary of defence Lloyd Austin and secretary of state Antony Blinken, topping off engagements the previous day with US national security adviser Jake Sullivan, US trade representative Katherine Tai and the director of national intelligence Avril Haines. He also met some lawmakers and business leaders during his visit.
Hours before Jaishankar arrived in Washington DC from New York, the first two-day leg of his US visit, Kurt Campbell, who is US President Joe Biden’s Indo-Pacific czar, said plans were afoot to convene an in-person summit of the leaders of the Quad this fall. “I mean when we are members of anything we are very keen about it, otherwise we won’t be members,” Jaishankar said in response to a question about India’s intent as a member of the Quad. “…we have clarity on the Quad.”
India’s commitment to the Quad has been the subject of much speculation despite the fact that it is Australia that left the fledgling group under pressure from China in 2008. The group was given up for dead until it was resurrected in 2017.
Jaishankar was India’s foreign secretary then. The first meeting of the renewed Quad, on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit, was scaled up to the level of ministers in 2019. Jaishankar attended that first ministerial meet, which took place on the sidelines of the UN general assembly meetings.
“We see the Quad (as) an expression of the convergence of interests of many countries; it is in many ways a reflection of the contemporary nature of the world order, where you know, it’s not a, sort of, you know, at some stage, we have to put the Cold War behind us,” Jaishankar said, going on to dismiss sceptics and critics as those “who are stuck in the Cold War”.
“Quad used to (and) still does discuss maritime security and connectivity; in recent years. It has started to discuss technology issues, supply chain issues and vaccine production. So, there are a whole set of issues,” the minister noted.
Without naming any country, Jaishankar said there are “many, many concerns” which have to be addressed by somebody.
“Big countries can do a large portion of it. Big relationships can add to it. But at the end of the day, most things work better if a group of countries sit together and say, okay, we all have similar positions and similar interests, and why don’t we all sit and address those sets of issues.
The first summit of the Quad leaders was hosted by US President Joe Biden on March 12 and the virtual meeting was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
China has vehemently opposed the formation of the Quad, with a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson emphasising in March that exchanges and cooperation between countries should help expand mutual understanding and trust, instead of targeting or harming the interests of third parties.
The four Quad leaders have vowed to strive for an Indo-Pacific region that is free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion, sending a clear message to China against its aggressive actions in the region.