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Quad meet: India for strong Indo-Pacific and open seas

Quad meet: India for strong Indo-Pacific and open seas

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar stressed on the importance of a free and open Indo-Pacific with freedom of navigation in international seas and settling of international disputes peacefully. Jaishankar was speaking at the second foreign ministers meeting of the Quad countries—India, USA, Japan and Australia—in Tokyo on Tuesday.

Addressing the foreign ministers, he said: "Our nations have collectively affirmed the importance of maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific. We remain committed to upholding the rules-based international order, underpinned by the rule of law, transparency, freedom of navigation in the international seas, respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty and peaceful resolution of disputes."

The face-to-face meeting of the four foreign ministers is significant as it takes place against the backdrop of unwarranted Chinese aggression against various countries in the region besides the threat posed by a fast-spreading coronavirus pandemic. The first Quad ministerial level meeting had taken place in New York in September 2019 in the pre-coronavirus era.

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Jaishankar reminded his august gathering that the world is a different place due to the spread of coronavirus. He said: "The events of this year have clearly demonstrated how imperative it is for like-minded countries to coordinate responses to the various challenges that the pandemic has brought to the fore."

Focusing on solutions, he said: "You are all aware that India assumes membership of the UN Security Council next year. We look forward to seeking collective solutions to global challenges, including global recovery from the pandemic and reform of multilateral institutions."

The Quad meeting in Tokyo is important for India as it has dropped its fear of antagonizing China. On earlier occasions, China had even issued veiled threats or questioned the purpose of holding Quad meetings. However, with an aggressive China either attacking or threatening to attack neighbors, the four countries have begun to see the necessity of coming together to create a secure and peaceful atmosphere in the region.

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Relations between China and India nosedived after the Chinese PLA entered Indian territory in April and later attacked Indian troops with nail-studded clubs resulting in dozens of casualties on both sides. Now nearly PLA 50,000 soldiers, armed with missiles, tanks and artillery sit across the Indian border threatening to invade the southern neighbor. India retaliated economically by banning Chinese apps, reducing imports and cancelling orders for Chinese firms.

The US and China are embroiled in technology and trade disputes besides tiffs over the South China Sea where China has been trying to enforce its "nine-dash line"—claiming large portions of the ocean from Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.

With Japan, China has been eyeing its Senkaku Islands and violating Japanese sovereignty by sending Coast Guard vessels into its territorial waters. Japan, on the other hand, claims that the islands belong to it historically and holds China responsible for the spread of coronavirus due to which it lost billions of dollars in the now-cancelled 2020 Olympics.

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China and Australia had a long diplomatic spat over coronavirus with the latter accusing the communist country of not divulging the origins and spread of the virus. China hit back at Australia with trade sanctions and bitter words. The dispute only escalated as Australian journalists fled the country out of fear.

The Quad had first come together when the navies of these four countries collaborated to provide humanitarian relief after the Indian Ocean Tsunami struck in 2004. The Quad withered away as relief work reduced but the idea remained. Later on, as some of the countries tried to revive the grouping, they came under pressure from China and therefore kept away. Ironically, if Chinese exhortations were successful in keeping the countries away all these years, its muscle-flexing has brought them together.

India also has military logistics pacts with most of these countries. The India-Japan military logistics pact was signed in September to allow their militaries to access each other's bases for logistics support including repairs, refueling and refurbishment.

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India and Australia had inked the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) in June this year at their much-vaunted virtual summit in an effort to give a push to defence cooperation. India already has similar agreements with Russia, the US, France and Singapore with a view to extend its physical reach and influence much beyond the Indian Ocean.

The four ministers—Toshimitsu Motegi of Japan, Michael Pompeo of the US, Marise Payne of Australia and India's Jaishankar, are also likely to discuss establishing setting up of alternative global supply chains that bypass China. The foreign ministers will also meet with the new Prime Minister of Japan Yoshihide Suga.

Beijing has not taken kindly to the four democratic countries coming together, which it sees as a threat. But former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's vision of a "free and open Indo-Pacific" region is finally taking shaping..