New Delhi: The foreign ministers of the four-member Indo-Pacific alliance, known as the Quad, agreed on Friday, March 3, that the use or threat of use of Nuclear weapons is “inadmissible”, but again fell short of a joint condemnation of the Ukraine war.
There had earlier been uncertainty as to whether the Quad ministerial meeting would take place as Japanese foreign minister Yoshimasha Hayashi skipped the G20 meeting due to his parliamentary schedule.
Reaffirmed that the Quad is ‘for’, not ‘against’. And for an inclusive,resilient, free and open Indo-Pacific.
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) March 3, 2023
However, after taking a special leave, Hayashi flew into New Delhi early Friday morning and went into a breakfast meeting with US secretary of state Anthony Blinken, Australian foreign minister Penny Wong and Indian external affairs minister S. Jaishankar,
Released after the talks, the joint statement said, “We continued to discuss our responses to the conflict in Ukraine and the immense human suffering it is causing, and concurred that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible”.
Ukraine has been a key topic of the Quad meetings since the Leaders’ summit in May 2022, the first one since the Ukraine war. While the United States, Japan and Australia have been leading the diplomatic and economic campaign against Russia, India has publicly refused to castigate Moscow for the military invasion of Ukraine.
The differences between the members has meant that there has not been a standard agreement on condemning the Ukraine war in Quad joint statements or press releases over the last year. This time also, it was no different.
The only change was that the Quad foreign ministers criticised the threat or use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. This line was also included in paragraph four of the G20 foreign ministers’ chair summary, endorsed by 18 members besides Russia and China.
Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin suspended participation in the new START treaty and threatened to resume nuclear tests.
Speaking at the panel of the four ministers at the Raisina dialogue on Friday, Blinken asserted that Russia was allowed to “do what it’s doing in Ukraine, then that’s a message to would-be aggressors everywhere that they may be able to get away with it too”.
A day earlier, Blinken had a 10-minute meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on the sidelines of the G20 meeting, their first-ever face-to-face encounter since the Ukraine war.
Russia and China have traditionally objected to the Quad grouping, with Russian officials claiming it was formed as an “anti-china” club.
Calling for a “comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine in accordance with international law, including the UN Charter”, the quad foreign ministers also said that “the rules-based international order must respect sovereignty, territorial integrity, transparency and peaceful resolution of disputes”.
Besides a mild rebuke of Russia, the Quad joint statement also took a swipe at China by referring to “unilateral” actions in the South and East China sea.
“We reiterate the importance of adherence to international law, as reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to meet challenges to the maritime rules-based order, including in the South and East China Seas. We strongly oppose any unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo or increase tensions in the area. We express serious concern at the militarization of disputed features, the dangerous use of coast guard vessels and maritime militia, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore resource exploitation activities,” said the joint statement.
At the Raisina panel dialogue, Japanese foreign minister Hayashi underlined that the Quad was not a military club, but for “practical cooperation”. He stated that the group did not “exclude” anyone, as long as they abided by international law.
“As long as China abides by international law and acts under international institutions, this is not a conflicting issue between China and Quad,” he said.
Hayashi had the most interesting analogy for the Quad members working together, while having their own interests and outreach with other countries. Describing the Quad as being like the Beatles, the Japanese foreign minister said that the mechanism was like a “soft group” with band members also doing their own thing on the side. “…even within the Beatles, Paul McCartney can release the album by solo”.
The Quad ministers also took potshots at China by stating they would “support meritorious and independent candidates for elections in the UN and in international forums to maintain the integrity and impartiality of the international system”.
Chinese officials increasingly helming various UN bodies and posts has been a frequent lament in western media and think-tanks. Along with increased funding, the Australian think tank Lowy Institute had analysed that China was “making a concerted effort to secure executive leadership posts within the UN international civil service, heading UN agencies located in the Senior Management Group and the Chief Executives Board”.
During the discussion at the conference, Jaishankar highlighted that India’s big gain from the Quad meeting was the announcement of a counter-terrorism working group and more robust language on UN Security Council reforms.
“We reiterate our unwavering support for the UN Charter, including its three pillars, and our steadfast commitment to strengthening the UN and international system through a comprehensive reform agenda, including through expansion in permanent and non-permanent seats of the UN Security Council. In this regard, we commit to active and constructive engagement in the Inter-Governmental Negotiations (IGN) process on Security Council Reforms with an overall objective of making the UN Security Council more effective, representative, and credible,” it said.
In response to the Quad ministerial joint statement, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson reminded that Beijing has always opposed the grouping for being an “exclusionary blocs”.
“We believe that state-to-state cooperation needs to be consistent with the trend of peace and development, rather than be about putting up exclusionary blocs. We hope certain countries can do more things that contribute to security and mutual trust between regional countries and that help to maintain regional peace and stability,” said spokesperson Mao Ning on Friday.