India tries to allay Russia’s concerns over its Indo-Pacific vision ahead of ‘Quad’ ministerial meet with US, Japan, Australia

The ‘Quad’ is critical to advancing ‘shared goals’ of India, Australia, Japan and the US for 'a free and open Indo-Pacific'
nirban Bhaumik
Last Updated : 18 February 2021, 07:57 IST
Last Updated : 18 February 2021, 07:57 IST
Last Updated : 18 February 2021, 07:57 IST
Last Updated : 18 February 2021, 07:57 IST

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The new US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, will hold a meeting with his counterparts from India, Australia and Japan on Thursday to discuss the approach of President Joe Biden’s administration on the ‘Quad’ and its role in countering China in the Indo-Pacific region.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Australian Foreign Minister Maris Payne and Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi are expected to take part in the meeting. This is going to be the first meeting of the ‘Quad’ Foreign Ministers after the new administration has taken over in the US. The Biden Administration has already signalled its keenness to strengthen the four-nation coalition, including by elevating it to the level of the Heads of Governments.

The ‘Quad’ is critical to advancing ‘shared goals’ of India, Australia, Japan and the US for “a free and open Indo-Pacific” and rising to the challenges, including coordinating efforts on Covid-19 response as well as climate change, Ned Price, the spokesperson of the US Department of State, said in Washington D.C.

Anurag Srivastava, the spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) of the Government of India, said that the Quad Foreign Ministers would exchange views on regional and global issues especially practical areas of cooperation towards maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. They would also discuss ongoing efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, addressing global climate change and other issues of mutual interest, he added in a statement released in New Delhi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is cautiously studying the US proposal for holding a summit of the Quad Heads of Governments, factoring in its implication on India’s relations with Russia as well as on the “disengagement process” the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of late started on the banks of Pangong Tso as the first step to resolve the 10-month-long military stand-off along the disputed boundary between the two nations.

A day before formally starting its engagement with the new US administration on Indo-Pacific within the framework of the ‘Quad’, India reassured Russia that its own vision for the region remained inclusive in nature, not targeted at any country, but supportive of freedom of navigation and overflight and peaceful settlement of territorial disputes.

“No geopolitical discussion today can be complete without a mention of ‘Indo-Pacific’. (The) Indo-Pacific signifies the seamless interface of the Indian and Pacific Oceans,” Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla said while delivering a speech at the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russian Government in Moscow on Wednesday.

“For India,” he said, “it (the Indo-Pacific) is the vast maritime space stretching from the western coast of North America to the eastern shores of Africa. We see this as a free, open, inclusive region, which embraces us all in a common pursuit of progress and prosperity.”

Shringla is currently on a tour of Moscow. He had a meeting with his counterpart in Russian Government, Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov, on Wednesday. He also called on Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Lavrov had in December 2020 made some hard-hitting comments about the ‘Quad’. He had called the informal coalition a ‘divisive’ and ‘exclusivist’ tool being used by the US to implement its “devious policy” of engaging New Delhi in games against China as well as to undermine Russia’s close partnership with India.

The comment caused unease in New Delhi as it came at a time when Indian Army was engaged in an eyeball-to-eyeball stand-off with the Chinese PLA which sought to unilaterally alter the status quo along the de facto boundary between the two neighbouring nations.

Shringla on Wednesday referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore in 2018 to allay Russia’s concerns over India’s engagement with Japan, Australia and the US in the ‘Quad’ as well as its vision for the Indo-Pacific region. He said that the Prime Minister had described the Indo-Pacific vision in one word - ‘SAGAR’ (ocean) – an acronym for "Security and Growth for All in the Region”.

“In 2019, at the East Asia Summit in Bangkok, Prime Minister Modi took the idea of SAGAR further and announced the "Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative” to support the building of a rules-based regional architecture resting on seven pillars: maritime security; maritime ecology; maritime resources; capacity building/resource sharing; disaster risk reduction and management; science, technology and academic cooperation; and trade connectivity or transport,” added the Foreign Secretary.

He said that India would like to work closely with Russia under the ASEAN and the East Asia Summit framework. “Over 50% of global trade traverses this maritime domain. It is also home to over 60% of the world’s population and the global GDP and hence the security, stability, peace and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region is vital for the world.”

India, US, Australia and Japan had first launched the 'quad' in 2007, but the initiative had fizzled out very soon. The four nations, however, re-launched the 'quad' in Manila in November 2017 – ostensibly to create a bulwark of democratic nations to counter expansionist moves of China in the Indo-Pacific region.

The senior diplomats of the four nations had several meetings ever since the quad was re-launched. It was elevated to the level of Foreign Ministers when the then US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, hosted his counterparts from Japan, Australia and India on the side-line of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2019. Pompeo and the foreign ministers of the three other nations – Jaishankar of India, Payne of Australia and Motegi of Japan – had another meeting in Tokyo on October 6 last year.

The second ministerial meeting was held amid the Covid-19 pandemic and the growing belligerence of China, not only along its Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India but also in the disputed waters of South China Sea, the East China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.

But the Trump Administration’s move to formalize and expand the ‘Quad’ and turn it into a NATO-like bloc for the Indo-Pacific region did not succeed as not only India, but Australia and Japan too were not yet ready to go the whole hog and overtly gang up with the US against China.

The Modi Government is keen to have a clear understanding of the Biden Administration’s approach on the Indo-Pacific region, before responding to any US-led move to elevate the ‘Quad’.

India over the past few years added military heft to its partnerships with the members of the ‘Quad’, inking military logistics sharing pacts with the US, Australia and Japan. But it last year also broad-based its Indo-Pacific engagements, by discussing its approach on the region with France and Germany, which however remained outside the ‘Quad’.

Published 18 February 2021, 07:57 IST

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