SOURCE: Hindustan Times

Ahead of the second ministerial meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), senior officials of the four countries in the grouping held consultations on Friday on collective efforts to advance a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region.

The senior officials of the foreign ministries of India, Australia and Japan and the US state department held a video conference and discussed ways to enhance the resilience of supply chains amid the Covid-19 crisis and shared best practices on combating the Covid-19 pandemic.

The foreign ministers of the Quad are expected to meet in Tokyo early in October against the backdrop of China’s increasingly aggressive behaviour across the region. The Quad was upgraded to the ministerial level with a meeting on the margin of the UN General Assembly last year.

The upcoming ministerial meeting will be held at a time when all four members of the Quad have serious differences with China – India is engaged in a border standoff in Ladakh, 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.

During Friday’s video conference, the senior officials exchanged views on ongoing and proposed practical cooperation in connectivity and infrastructure development and security matters, including counter-terrorism, cyber and maritime security, to promote peace, security, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific, according to a statement from the external affairs ministry.

“The four democracies discussed ways to work together to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, promote transparency and counter disinformation, and protect the rules-based order the region has long enjoyed,” said a readout from the US state department.

In an apparent reference to American efforts against Chinese telecom major Huawei, the US readout said the officials noted the importance of digital connectivity and secure networks and discussed ways to “promote the use of trusted vendors, particularly for fifth generation (5G) networks”.

The officials also explored ways to enhance coordination on counter-terrorism, maritime and cyber security, regional connectivity, and quality infrastructure based upon international best practices, such as the G20 Principles for Quality Infrastructure Investment. They also highlighted the need to improve supply chains in sectors such as critical minerals, medical supplies and pharmaceuticals, the US readout added.

Both the Indian statement and the US readout reiterated the Quad’s firm support to the centrality of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and Asean-led mechanisms in the regional architecture for the Indo-Pacific. The members of the Quad expressed their readiness to work with ASEAN and other countries to realise a common vision for the Indo-Pacific.

The officials also explored ways to work together in the Mekong sub-region, in the South China Sea, and across the Indo-Pacific to support international law, pluralism, regional stability, and post-pandemic recovery efforts, the US readout said.

China’s growing aggression and assertiveness has prompted the members of the Quad to step up efforts, both among themselves and with other countries in the Indo-Pacific, to forge new supply chains and to enhance maritime security cooperation.

The foreign secretaries of India, Australia and France co-chaired the first senior officials’ trilateral dialogue on September 9 to enhance cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and strengthen multilateralism. On September 1, India, Australia and Japan agreed to launch an initiative to ensure the resilience of supply chains in the Indo-Pacific.