New Delhi: The ‘Quad’ has received a profile lift, with foreign ministers of India, Japan, Australia and the United States holding a meeting on Thursday. This is being seen as a “significant elevation” of its status since officials of four countries first met in 2007.
The meeting – on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York – was attended by the Indian external affairs minister S. Jaishankar and his counterparts, Mike Pompeo (United States), Marisa Payne (Australia) and Toshimitsu Motegi (Japan).
The first meeting of the four countries at the additional secretary level took place in May 2007, to help with coordination in disaster mitigation during the 2004 tsunami. However, China had issued a strong démarche to all the four countries after the first meeting, interpreting the group as the formation of a nascent alliance against Beijing.
The ‘Quad’ format had since then gone dormant until about 2017. On the sidelines of the East Asia Summit, senior officials of joint secretary rank met after a decade to revive the consultations. At the meeting, they affirmed their support for a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and the centrality of the ASEAN.
Since then, officials have met at least twice a year on the sidelines of multilateral fora. These meetings have not yielded any joint statement, but each side had issued a separate press statement. This time there have been no press releases, except for tweets from the official accounts of the ministers.
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) September 26, 2019
Positive meeting with @MarisePayne, @DrSJaishankar, and @moteging. We discussed our shared interest in building a free and open #IndoPacific, denuclearization of #NorthKorea, and joint efforts to promote regional stability. pic.twitter.com/BBwS6EOukq
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) September 26, 2019
I met today in New York with my counterparts from the US, Japan and India to discuss our efforts to maintain and promote an open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific, and reaffirm our #Quad commitment to shared values and cooperation.@SecPompeo @moteging @DrSJaishankar
— Marise Payne (@MarisePayne) September 26, 2019
According to the US state department’s acting assistant secretary for South and Central Asia, Alice Wells, the September 26 meeting marked a “significant elevation in the level of…dialogue”.
She said the upgradation in the dialogue level “demonstrates the leadership of all four countries in institutionalising this gathering of like-minded Indo-Pacific partners”.
Bloomberg has reported that Australian foreign minister Payne had emailed a statement to the media that the four countries “reaffirmed their commitment to shared values and cooperation on maritime security, infrastructure and connectivity in support of rules-based frameworks”.
As can be seen in her tweet, Payne also posted that the ministers discussed “efforts to maintain and promote an open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific”.
Jaishankar has previously stated that India does not consider the ‘Quad’ as a response to a single country, but rather a reflection of shared aims.
So far, there has been no statement issued by the Chinese foreign ministry on the meeting of the four foreign ministers. In July this year, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi had said that one of the principles of regional cooperation should be to “focus on openness and inclusiveness, without forming factions or seeking small cliques”.
Next month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will host Chinese President Xi Jinping for the second edition of their informal summit in India.