'Quad' of India, US, Japan, Australia to meet soon
India wants it to stay at the joint secretary level, though the US and Japan have asked for it to be elevated to a foreign secretary/foreign minister level. For the time being, India has prevailed, as was decided after the 2+2 meeting last week. Indian officials said they would like the coming rounds to focus on coastguards cooperation, piracy and humanitarian relief on the seas.
New Delhi continues to treat the Quad with some degree of circumspection — India insists the Quad should market three mantras to the countries in the region: that it is not anti-China, that it is all about inclusiveness, and that it stands for a rules-based order. During the recent high level dialogue, Indian officials were at pains to persuade the US to not conflate the Indo-Pacific with the Quad, which India feels would make it less acceptable in the Asean region.
In fact, a key aspect of Modi’s articulation of the Indo-Pacific puts Asean at the heart, which has been repeatedly stressed by India. It is also partly to counter some hectic Chinese diplomacy in the Asean region which makes the Quad into an exclusive club ganging up against Asian powers.
Responding to journalists’ questions on a conference call after the 2+2, senior US official Alice Wells said, “There was general agreement that we would continue to engage bilaterally, trilaterally and quadrilaterally. We are looking to establish the next date of assistant secretary/ joint secretary level Quad meeting to follow up on conversations related to maritime domain awareness.”
Despite what Indian officials say however, its clear the Quad is shaping up to provide an alternate narrative to China in the Indo-Pacific region. In fact, a recent decision by Australia to invite both China and Pakistan to its “Kakadu” exercises especially after the US had disinvited China from the RIMPAC exercises earlier this year has raised eyebrows in India.
Asked if China had come up in their talks, Wells clarified that it was in the context of the Indo-Pacific region. “We discussed the Indo-Pacific as an opportunity for US and India to be able to offer countries alternatives for development, for how they are going to pursue significant infrastructure projects and how they are going to work in order to create a free and open trading system that has advanced all the countries of the world since WWII. This is not a zero sum kind of a discussion. We welcome contributions by China to regional development as long as they uphold high standards whether it is transparency or sustainable financing.”
A big part of the Indo-Pacific would be infrastructure development and financing, something China has used to great effect to expand its influence and power. Recently, the US, Japan and Australia announced an infrastructure development initiative. An India-US-Japan trilateral infrastructure plan has been in play since the last trilateral meeting in March in New Delhi.
Wells said the US was adding more “muscle” to its Indo Pacific policy. “what we see is an opportunity to use our private sectors to contribute constructively to develop the region. US has $1.4 billion in terms of trade with the Indo-Pacific and $850 billion in FDI. So the conversations were how can we engage bilaterally and trilaterally with Japan and quadrilatrally with Australia; with ASEAN at the center of our efforts, how can we work to promote economic security and good governance and security of the seas and skies.”
(This article was originally published in The Times of India)