Quad ministerial meet held with an eye on China; no announcement on military exercise yet

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The second ministerial meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, also known as the Quad, took place in Tokyo on Tuesday, a year after the foreign minsters of India, Australia, Japan and the US met for the first time in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

India's External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar is on a two-day visit to Japan, which is the first high-level visit from India after Prime Minister Suga took over.

The Quad ministers emphasised on the need for a secure Indo-Pacific where countries allow "freedom of navigation" on the basis of "rules-based international order".

During his opening remarks at the forum, Jaishankar said, "As vibrant and pluralistic democracies with shared values, our nations have collectively affirmed the importance of maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific. We remain committed to upholding the rules-based international order, underpinned by the rule of law, transparency, freedom of navigation in the international seas, respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty and peaceful resolution of disputes."

The meeting comes at a time when tensions between the Quad nations and China have increased significantly. The dominant theme of the meeting was how to tackle an increasingly assertive China.

The Quad group was represented by US' Mike Pompeo, Japan's Toshimitsu Motegi, Australia's Marise Payne and India's S Jaishankar.

In his initial remarks, Secretary Pompeo said, "When we met now last year, the landscape was very different. We couldn't have imagined the (coronavirus) pandemic that came from Wuhan. That crisis was made infinitely worse by the Chinese Communist Party's cover up. The regime's authoritarian nature led its leaders to lock up and silence the very brave Chinese citizens who were raising the alarm. American stands with each of you as we work to achieve victory over this horrible pandemic and rebuild our economies together."

Jaishankar in his remarks said, "Our objective remains advancing the security and economic interests of all countries having legitimate and vital interests in the region. It is a matter of satisfaction that the Indo-Pacific concept has gained increasingly wider acceptance. The Indo-Pacific Ocean's Initiative that we tabled at the East Asia Summit last year is a development with considerable promise in that context."

The three visiting foreign ministers along with Japanese foreign minister Motegi called on Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide. The meeting lasted for approximately 20 minutes.

"Prime Minister Suga stated that various challenges facing the international society after the outbreak and spread of Covid-19 make it all the more necessary to further deepen ties with many more countries which share the vision of 'Free and Open Indo-Pacific' and build up concrete cooperation with them," Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

The foreign ministers agreed to the importance of reinforcing a rules-based, free and open international order and confirmed further collaboration among the four nations for the region's peace and stability.

Meanwhile, the biggest elephant in the room has remained unaddressed. Will Australia be a part of the next Quad military exercises?

While talks continue, the decision to hold the military exercise of the Quad has still not been firmed up. Sources say there will be no announcement on Quad military exercise.

The Chinese have been sending signals of warning should the Quad try to become a cohesive alliance and force to counter China in the region.

"We hope relevant countries can proceed from the common interests of countries in the region, and do more things that are conducive to regional peace, stability and development, not the other way around," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin had said at one of his press briefings.

The informal grouping was championed by Japan's then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2006 under the vision of an "arc of freedom and prosperity" for the countries bordering the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Beijing has been formally protesting the Quad for years, especially the military exercises. That is the reason why Australia was never a part of the Quad military exercises, although trilateral and bilateral exercises continued.

After the pandemic, an emboldened Quad now sees the need to strengthen the alliance and therefore there have conversations to hold the Quad Malabar exercises.

While India Japan US trilateral exercises continue, inclusion of Australia and holding the Quad Malabar exercise has still not been announced.

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