With leaders of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue set to hold their first summit on March 12, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Yoshihide Suga on Tuesday pledged to bolster cooperation with Australia and the US to tackle common challenges and ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.
The first virtual summit of the leaders of India, Australia, Japan and the US was announced by the external affairs ministry late on Tuesday night. It will be held about a year-and-half after the Quad was upgraded to the level of foreign ministers in September 2019, and reflects the desire of the group to present a united front to key challenges, including China’s belligerence across the region.
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PM Modi will participate with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and US President Joe Biden in the “first Leaders’ Summit of the Quadrilateral Framework, being held virtually,” the ministry said in a statement.
Besides discussing regional and global issues of shared interest, the leaders will “exchange views on practical areas of cooperation towards maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific”.
The Quad summit will be an opportunity to exchange views on “contemporary challenges such as resilient supply chains, emerging and critical technologies, maritime security, and climate change,” the statement added.
The leaders will also review efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic and “explore opportunities for collaboration in ensuring safe, equitable and affordable vaccines in the Indo-Pacific region,” the statement said without giving details.
Reports have suggested that the other members of the Quad could invest in India’s vaccine production capabilities to expand the delivery of doses across the region, especially to counter China’s vaccine diplomacy. India is the world’s largest producer of vaccines and has supplied almost 58 million doses to 65 countries, including 7.7 million doses provided as grants.
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China has pledged to provide more than 460 million doses of its own vaccines to nations across the world but is yet to ramp up actual supplies.
Ahead of the Quad summit, Modi and Suga had a 40-minute phone conversation and agreed to bolster cooperation both bilaterally and through the four-nation group to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.
The two prime ministers also discussed defence and security cooperation and Suga expressed serious concerns about China’s actions in the area ranging from Hong Kong to the East China Sea.
Modi and Suga agreed the India-Japan partnership can play a “pivotal role in addressing common challenges”, and emphasised that “their engagement with like-minded countries such as Australia and the US in the form of Quad consultations holds value and agreed that these useful discussions must continue,” the external affairs ministry said.
A readout from Japan’s foreign ministry said the two leaders “shared the recognition that cooperation towards realising a Free and Open Indo-Pacific is becoming increasingly important and to this end, shared the view to steadily advance both Japan-India bilateral cooperation and Japan-Australia-India-US quadrilateral cooperation”.
Suga expressed “serious concerns regarding unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East and South China Sea, China’s Coast Guard Law and the situation in Hong Kong and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region,” the Japanese readout said. While exchanging views on the region, the two leaders “confirmed that they have grave concerns over the situation in Myanmar and they would closely work together in this vein,” the readout added.
Suga also sought “understanding and cooperation toward the early resolution” of the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea.
The two leaders welcomed progress on the high-speed rail project in Maharashtra and the signing of a memorandum of cooperation for specified skilled Indian workers to be employed in Japan.
They also agreed to celebrate the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between India and Japan in 2022. Modi also invited Suga to visit India at the earliest for the annual bilateral summit.
The US has taken the lead in organising both the Quad summit and the third meeting of the foreign ministers of the group on February 18, against the backdrop of continuing concerns over China’s actions. During their meeting, the foreign ministers reiterated the Quad’s commitment to a rules-based world order underpinned by respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty.
The Quad, formed in 2007, was revived in 2017 as a gathering of senior officials. It was upgraded to the ministerial level in 2019, reflecting the desire of the four countries to work more closely on shared interests in the Indo-Pacific and India’s growing comfort with the group.