Quad leaders renew pledge for free, open Indo-Pacific

The Quad leaders assessed the implications of the Ukraine conflict on the Indo-Pacific region

New Delhi: Renewing their “steadfast commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific that is inclusive and resilient”, the Quad leaders -- the Prime Ministers of India, Japan and Australia and the US President -- met in Tokyo on Tuesday for the second in-person meeting of the four-nation group. In a clear message to an aggressive China, the leaders expressed their firm opposition to “any provocative or unilateral attempt” to change the status quo and, in a veiled advice to Russia, called for all countries to “seek peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, US President Joe Biden, Japanese PM Fumio Kishida and Australia’s new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met in Tokyo and discussed the conflict in Ukraine and the ongoing humanitarian crisis. The Quad leaders assessed the implications of the Ukraine conflict on the Indo-Pacific region.

Mr Biden and Mr Kishida lambasted Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. The US President accused Russia of trying to obliterate Ukraine’s culture and vowed to power the global response to the crisis as long as Russia continues the war.

On Ukraine, Mr Biden said: “We’re navigating a dark hour in our shared history. Russia’s brutal and unprovoked war against Ukraine has triggered a humanitarian catastrophe. And innocent civilians have been killed in the streets and millions of refugees are internally displaced as well as exiled. And this is more than just a European issue; it’s a global issue... It appears to me that (Vladimir) Putin is just trying to extinguish a culture. He’s not even aiming at military targets anymore; he’s taking out every school, every church, and every natural history museum as if to try to obliterate the Ukrainian culture. And the world has to deal with it, and we are.”

The US President added: “The global food crisis is made worse by Russia’s blocking Ukraine from exporting its millions of tonnes of grain. And also, as long as Russia continues the war, the United States will work with our partners to help the global response, because it’s going to affect all parts of the world."

There was, however, no direct condemnation of Russia in the Quad’s joint statement issued later, most likely due to India’s sensitivities on the issue. But in a veiled signal to Russia, the statement said: “All countries must seek peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law.”

This was the fourth interaction of the Quad leaders since the first virtual meeting in March 2021, the in-person summit in Washington DC in September 2021, and their virtual interaction earlier in March this year. Australia, which will host the next summit in the coming year, also renewed its commitment to the Quad.

Hailing the Quad as “a force for good with a constructive agenda”, Mr Modi pointed out that the Quad has “assumed an important place on the world stage”. Mr Modi said: “In such a short time, the Quad has assumed an important place on the world stage... Our mutual trust, our determination is giving new energy and enthusiasm to the democratic forces. Our mutual cooperation at the Quad level is giving a boost to a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region, which is the common objective of all of us.”

He added: “In spite of the adverse circumstances of Covid-19, we have increased coordination in many areas such as vaccine delivery, climate action, supply chain resilience, disaster response and economic cooperation. This is ensuring peace, prosperity and stability in the Indo-Pacific. The Quad is carrying a constructive agenda for the Indo-Pacific region. This will further strengthen the image of the Quad as a force for good.”

Apart from the discussions on Russia and China, the Quad partners took several important decisions on maritime information sharing, infrastructure that included possible assistance of more than $50 billion to the Indo-Pacific region in the next five years, cyber-security, space cooperation and the Quad Covid vaccine initiatives, along with a commitment to address the debt issues of countries, something that could be of direct relevance to cash-strapped countries like Sri Lanka that have a huge Chinese financial debt.

The four leaders also “welcomed a new maritime domain awareness initiative, the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA), designed to work with regional partners to respond to humanitarian and natural disasters and combat illegal fishing”.

The Quad leaders also officially launched the Quad Fellowship, that will bring 100 students from four countries to the United States each year to pursue graduate degrees in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

In a veiled reference to Pakistan, the Quad also denounced terrorism, including cross-border terror, while denouncing terror attacks, including the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and the 2016 Pathankot terror attack.

Another major decision was the launch of the “Quad Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Package” (Q-CHAMP), with “mitigation” and “adaptation” as its two themes. According to the joint statement, the “Q-CHAMP includes ongoing activities under the Quad Climate Working Group on green shipping and ports, aiming for a shared green corridor framework building on each Quad country’s input...”

On vaccine cooperation, the four nations said: “We welcome the progress on the expansion of J&J vaccine production at the Biological E facility in India under the Quad Vaccine Partnership... We celebrate the donation by the Quad to Cambodia and Thailand of WHO-approved Made in India vaccines, together with Quad members’ other vaccine related support, as an example of the tangible achievement of our collaboration.”

Several decisions were also taken in the spheres of cyber-security and critical technologies involving semi-conductors, including improving the defence of the four nations’ critical infrastructure.

On space cooperation, it was decided that the four Quad nations would work together to create an earth observation-based monitoring and sustainable development framework.

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