Senior officials of the Quad grouping – India, Australia, Japan, and the US met for the second time virtually this year on Friday with focus on COVID-19 vaccine, Indo-Pacific among others.
The first meeting of the group had taken place on September 25 followed by Quad foreign ministers in-person meeting in Japan in October, making the total number of Quad meets this year at three showing an increased engagement.
The minister of external affairs in a release said officials “underscored the importance of enhancing the resilience of supply chains” and highlighted the need to “ensure safe, effective and affordable access to COVID-19 vaccines.”
Amid the COVID-19 crisis, a number of COVID plus meetings at the foreign secretary-level took place that saw the participation of countries like New Zealand, South Korea and Japan.
Indo-Pacific was expectedly the top focus area with officials of the grouping reaffirming “their commitment towards a free, open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region” based on “shared values and principles and respect for international law especially the UNCLOS.”
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea(UNCLOS) was violated by China in 2016 by not accepting the award of the tribunal constituted under it. The tribunal had dismissed the Chinese claim to a large portion of South China Sea based on its so called “nine dash line”.
The read out also said that the grouping of four countries “reiterated their firm support for ASEAN-centrality and ASEAN-led mechanisms” in the regional architecture for the Indo-Pacific, and “their readiness to work with ASEAN and all other countries towards realising a common and promising vision for the Indo-Pacific.”
While the MEA release listed areas of cooperation as counter-terrorism, cyber security, maritime security, a new addition was humanitarian and disaster relief something that Indian forces have been able to do amidst the covid pandemic by sending relief to many countries in Africa and the Indian ocean.
China sees the grouping very suspiciously and has been terming it “Asian NATO”. The increased engagement of the grouping comes even as Beijing in 2020 tried to increase its territorial ambitions by being aggressive not only with its neighbours but also Quad member countries. In some ways, it has been having either territorial or trade issues with all the Quad member countries.