New Delhi: In the historic first virtual summit, ‘Quad’ leaders Friday, in a strong message to China, agreed to work closely together and “strive” for a region that is free, open, inclusive, supports rule of law, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic values, and territorial integrity.
The Quad, or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue — comprising the US, India, Japan and Australia — which was formed as a new bloc against the rise of China, came down heavily on Beijing and signaled that the Quad “looks forward to the future” and “it seeks to uphold peace and prosperity and strengthen democratic resilience, based on universal values”, said the joint statement, named ‘The Spirit of the Quad.’
The signals to Beijing were clear.
“We have convened to reaffirm our commitment to quadrilateral cooperation between Australia, India, Japan, and the United States. We bring diverse perspectives and are united in a shared vision for the free and open Indo-Pacific. We strive for a region that is free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion,” said the statement.
“Together, we commit to promoting a free, open rules-based order, rooted in international law to advance security and prosperity and counter threats to both in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. We support the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic values, and territorial integrity,” the statement added.
Putting an unprecedented focus on security in the maritime domain, all four leaders unanimously stated, “We will begin cooperation on the critical technologies of the future to ensure that innovation is consistent with a free, open, inclusive, and resilient Indo-Pacific.
“We will continue to prioritise the role of international law in the maritime domain, particularly as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and facilitate collaboration, including in maritime security, to meet challenges to the rules-based maritime order in the East and South China Sea.”
The Quad leaders also said that in achieving the long-term goals of the grouping, it will work with partners in the ASEAN region as well as with the European countries.
US President Joe Biden, who hosted the virtual event, said, “A free and open Indo-Pacific is essential to each of our futures, our countries.
“The United States is committed to working with you, our partners, and all our allies in the region to achieve stability. And this is a group…particularly important because it’s dedicated to the practical solutions and concrete results… The Quad is going to be a vital arena for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific,” he added.
Quad had come of age, says Modi
Later this year, the leaders of these four countries will meet once again for a face-to-face summit, which will be hosted by one of the member countries.
“Today’s summit meeting shows that Quad has come of age. It will now remain an important pillar of stability in the region,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he highlighted that the immediate agenda of the Quad is “vaccines, climate change, and emerging technologies”.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, “As we emerge from this global pandemic and the global recession, let us together create a different future. It is the Indo-Pacific that will now shape the destiny of our world in the 21st century.”
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said, “With the four countries working together, I wish to firmly advance our cooperation to realise a free and open Indo-Pacific and to make visible and tangible contribution to the peace, stability, and prosperity of the region, including overcoming Covid-19.”
‘China found mention’
Addressing a press conference after the summit, Foreign Secretary Harsh V. Shringla hinted at the fact that the ongoing border tensions between India and China at the Line of Actual Control in Eastern Ladakh found mention under the “regional issues” agenda of the Quad.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan later said at a White House briefing session that while the leaders did discuss “China, but today was not fundamentally on China”.
Sullivan stated border tensions between India and China were discussed, and also tensions between Tokyo and Beijing over the Senkaku Islands.
Denuclearisation of North Korea and the military coup in Myanmar were also discussed during the virtual summit.
Some of the main takeaways from the first summit were — Quad Vaccine Partnership, which will also now see the setting up of Quad Vaccine Experts Group, Quad Climate Working Group and Quad Critical and Emerging Technology Working Group.
Shringla said India will now be manufacturing and distributing the US vaccines in the Indo-Pacific region.
The joint Quad statement said, “To advance these goals and others, we will redouble our commitment to Quad engagement.
“We will combine our nations’ medical, scientific, financing, manufacturing and delivery, and development capabilities and establish a vaccine expert working group to implement our path-breaking commitment to safe and effective vaccine distribution,” it added.
“We call for transparent and results-oriented reform at the World Health Organization. We are united in recognising that climate change is a global priority and will work to strengthen the climate actions of all nations, including to keep a Paris-aligned temperature limit within reach,” the joint statement said.
The leaders also decided to “begin cooperation on the critical technologies of the future” for the development and security of the Indo-Pacific.
All eyes are now on the visit of US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to India, one of the first high-level visits by a top official of the US administration since Joe Biden came to power in January.