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Quad mutates—health, supply chains, support for debt-trapped countries officially on the radar

Departing from security alone, the Indo-Pacific Quad has mutated. The four countries comprising India, Australia, Japan and the United States are now exploring ways to work together in sectors such as health and alternate supply chains that exclude China.

Without naming Beijing, which has been accused of snaring developing countries in a “debt trap,” a statement by the US State Department on Friday avowed to help countries vulnerable to malign and coercive economic actions in the Indo-Pacific region. The statement was made following a virtual meeting of Quad officials.

The quartet also decided to focus on developing resilient supply chains—a step that follows a realisation after the Covid-19 pandemic among the world’s democracies and allied countries that over-dependence on China was harmful for their long-term interests. On September 1, trade ministers of three countries of the Quad—India, Japan and Australia had already flagged the necessity to deep dive to develop concrete plans that would exclude China so that robust alternate supply chains could be developed.

"The participants also explored opportunities for future Quad engagement on topics ranging from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to coordinating efforts on Covid response and vaccines and expanding coordination in multilateral forums, including the United Nations and related organisations," the statement further said.

As expected, the foursome reviewed recent strategic developments throughout the Indo-Pacific region, including the South China Sea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the Mekong sub-region.

The meeting followed up on directions issued by the Quad foreign ministers on October 6 during the Tokyo conference.

The officials also reaffirmed the Quad's strong support to the centrality of the 10-nation Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and an ASEAN-led regional architecture.

"The four countries welcome the opportunity to continue regular consultations, including at the Ministerial, senior official, and working levels as a testament to the growing diversity and depth of engagement among the Quad members," the Department observed.