External affairs minister S Jaishankar will on Tuesday participate in the second ministerial meeting of the Quad that will focus on ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific in the face of China’s increasingly aggressive behaviour across the region.
Jaishankar and his counterparts from Australia, Japan and the US are expected to discuss issues such as plans for manufacturing and distribution of a Covid-19 vaccine, connectivity, development of 5G technology, maritime cooperation, counter-terrorism, cyber security, and development of critical infrastructure and supply chains, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity.
The issue of Australia’s inclusion in the Malabar naval exercise to be conducted by India, Japan and the US at the end of this year is also expected to figure in the discussions of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad, which was upgraded to the ministerial level in September last year.
The people pointed out that it was rare for four foreign ministers to gather physically for a meeting amid the Covid-19 pandemic, and this highlighted the importance attached to the Quad by the four members.
Ahead of the Quad meeting, Jaishankar held a bilateral meeting with US secretary of state Mike Pompeo in Tokyo, the people said. He is also expected to hold separate meetings with Australian foreign minister Marise Payne and Japanese foreign minister Toshimitsu Motegi.
The external affairs ministry said last week that the foreign ministers of the Quad will discuss the “post-Covid-19 international order and the need for a coordinated response to the various challenges emerging from the pandemic”. They will also discuss regional issues and “collectively affirm the importance of maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific”, it said.
The Quad meeting is expected to make an assessment of China’s aggressive actions, including the border standoff with China, its confrontation with Taiwan and its activities in the South China Sea, the people cited above said.
All four members of the grouping have serious differences with China – India is engaged in a border standoff in Ladakh, the Australian government has pledged to halt projects under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Japan is worried about Chinese intrusions near the Senkaku Islands, and the US is engaged in a trade war.
The members of the Quad, especially India, Japan and Australia, have stepped up work on forging partnerships with like-minded countries in the region, or those with interests in the Indian Ocean, with an eye on China’s increasing assertiveness.
Jaishankar recently said India and Japan were looking at cooperating on projects in Bangladesh and Myanmar as part of their efforts to work together in third countries.
On September 9, India, Australia and France held their maiden senior officials’ trilateral dialogue, with the focus on building convergences in the Indo-Pacific. On the same day, India and Japan signed the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), a pact for reciprocal provision of supplies and services between their defence forces.