Against the backdrop of the India-China border standoff, external affairs minister S Jaishankar on Tuesday said New Delhi remains committed to a rules-based world order, respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty and peaceful resolution of disputes.
Jaishankar made the remarks in his opening speech at the second ministerial meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad in Tokyo without naming China. The meeting focused on the issue of ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific in the face of China’s increasingly aggressive behaviour across the region.
He also said the events of this year have demonstrated how “imperative it is for like-minded countries to coordinate responses to the various challenges that the pandemic has brought to the fore”.
“As vibrant and pluralistic democracies with shared values, our nations have collectively affirmed the importance of maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific,” Jaishankar told the meeting, which was also attended by Australian foreign minister Marise Payne, Japanese foreign minister Toshimitsu Motegi and US secretary of state Mike Pompeo.
“We remain committed to upholding the rules-based international order, underpinned by the rule of law, transparency, freedom of navigation in the international seas, respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty and peaceful resolution of disputes,” he added.
With India set to begin a two-year stint as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council next year, Jaishankar said the country looks forward to “seeking collective solutions to global challenges, including global recovery from the pandemic and reform of multilateral institutions”.
Since May, tens of thousands of Indian and Chinese troops have been engaged in a tense standoff in Ladakh sector of the Line of Actual Control. Twenty Indian soldiers were killed on June 15 in a brutal clash at Galwan Valley, which also resulted in unspecified Chinese casualties.
All four members of the Quad have serious differences with China – the Australian government has pledged to halt projects under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Japan is worried about Chinese intrusions near the Senkaku Islands, and the US is engaged in a trade war and has opposed China’s aggressive activities in South China Sea.
Jaishankar noted that the fact that the four foreign ministers were meeting in person, despite the global pandemic, is “testimony to the importance that these consultations have gained, particularly in recent times”. He added, “Our world is significantly different today than what it was when we last met in New York in September 2019.”
India’s objective remains advancing the security and economic interests of all countries having legitimate and vital interests in the region, he said. “It is a matter of satisfaction that the Indo-Pacific concept has gained increasingly wider acceptance,” he said.
Jaishankar and his counterparts from Australia, Japan and the US were expected to discuss issues such as plans for manufacturing and distribution of a Covid-19 vaccine, connectivity, development of 5G technology, maritime cooperation, counter-terrorism, cyber security, and development of critical infrastructure and supply chains, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity.
The issue of Australia’s inclusion in the Malabar naval exercise to be conducted by India, Japan and the US at the end of this year is also expected to figure in the discussions of the Quad, which was upgraded to the ministerial level in September last year.
Ahead of the Quad meeting, Jaishankar held a bilateral meeting with US secretary of state Mike Pompeo in Tokyo. “Pleased to see the progress of our partnership in so many fields. Will work together for stability and prosperity in the Indo- Pacific,” he tweeted after the meeting.
The Quad foreign ministers also called on Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
Jaishankar is set to hold separate meetings with Australian foreign minister Marise Payne and Japanese foreign minister Toshimitsu Motegi.
The external affairs ministry said last week that the foreign ministers of the Quad will discuss the “post-Covid-19 international order and the need for a coordinated response to the various challenges emerging from the pandemic”. They will also discuss regional issues and “collectively affirm the importance of maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific”, it said.