By Arul Louis
New York, Sep 27 (IANS) The Quad – the four-way dialogue between the US, Japan, India and Australia – has met at the ministerial level for the first time in a “significant elevation” of the dialogue on efforts by the partners countries to advance cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, said Alice Wells, the Acting Assistant Secretary for South Asia.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosted the meeting here on Thursday that was attended by Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, and Foreign Ministers Toshimitsu Motegi of Japan and Marise Payne of Australia.
“We had a wide-ranging discussion of our collective efforts to advance a free and open Indo-Pacific, but also touching on counterterrorism, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, maritime security cooperation, development finance, and cybersecurity,” Wells said at a State Department briefing.
“The US and Indian joint participation in the Quad also demonstrates the strength of the US-India relationship and our shared commitment to, again, advancing a values-based policy towards the region,” she said.
The Quad has met four times in the past two years at the level of senior officials like her, but the ministerial meeting “was a significant elevation of the level of our dialogue and really demonstrates the leadership of all four countries in institutionalising this gathering of like-minded Indo-Pacific partners”, Wells said.
“We had a wide-ranging discussion of our collective efforts to advance a free and open Indo-Pacific, but also touching on counterterrorism, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, maritime security cooperation, development finance, and cybersecurity,” she said.
Jaishankar tweeted a thank you to the other participants.
Pompeo said in his tweet: “We discussed our shared interest in building a free and open Indo-Pacific, denuclearization of North Korea, and joint efforts to promote regional stability.”
Payne tweeted that they met “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”.
While the ministerial was taking place, 11,500 km away in Sasebo, Japan, the Malabar Exercise of the Navies of three Quad members, India, the US and Japan, was taking place.
A senior State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that exercises like this contributed to security cooperation among the Quad members, but the group did not want to become a military alliance.
It was not directed against anyone, the official added.
About New Delhi’s cooperation with Washington in the context of the Quad, the official said that the US welcomed and supported “India’s emergence as a net security provider in the region and a global actor and we regard India’s contribution as vital to the safeguarding of a rules-based system in the Indo-Pacific region”.
The cooperation “reflects a shared commitment to uphold the rule of law, counter-terrorism cooperation freedom of navigation, democratic values and economic growth – and these are all values that we will advance across the region”, the official added.
Besides continuing to work with the Quad, the US is looking to expanding cooperation with India through the bilateral mechanisms like the 2+2 meetings of the defence and foreign affairs leaders of the two countries.
The official emphasised the centrality of ASEAN to the Indo-Pacific region and said the Quad would work closely with it.
One of the issues facing the region is the “predatory lending” that is loading up countries with unsustainable loans, the official said referring to China.
While the Quad would not set up another bank, the members would help develop private sector financing using some government aid as seed money for the development of countries.
In advancing the development of other countries cooperatively, the Quad would rely on a system of division of labour with each member contributing in the areas where they have abilities, considering that they are all different.
An important area of cooperation is in disaster relief, the official said, noting that the seeds of the Quad were sown when they came together during the 2004 tsunami and earthquake to carry out relief operations.
(Arul Louis can be contacted at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)