Quad to meet: Foreign Ministers of India, US, Japan and Australia

Shubhajit Roy
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar (File Photo/AP/PTI)

A YEAR after India refused to upgrade its Quadrilateral grouping with the US, Australia and Japan to the level of Foreign Secretaries, the Foreign Ministers of the four countries are scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York.

The Quadrilateral, which was revived in November 2017, has so far met at the level of Joint Secretary-rank officials. The new plan will result in an upgrade by at least three levels.

Sources said the meeting has been scheduled for the morning of September 26. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar will be heading to New York after attending the Howdy Modi event in Houston Sunday.

Last September, with Beijing watching the Indo-US engagement closely, India had decided to cautiously approach its engagement with the quadrilateral countries in the hotly contested Indo-Pacific maritime domain, where China has been increasingly proactive and assertive.

During the first ever Indo-US 2+2 meeting last September, the US wanted to upgrade the level of engagement among the grouping to the level of Foreign Secretaries, but the Indian side suggested that it be kept at the Joint-Secretary level.

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In November 2017, a meeting of Joint Secretary-rank officials director general-level in Japan and Australia and assistant secretary-rank in the US was held in Manila on the margins of the ASEAN and East Asia summit. Since then, at least three rounds of meetings have taken place, with the last in May this year.

Explained

A counter to China

The concept of quadrilateral cooperation among India, Japan, Australia and the US is inextricably linked to China s emergence as a great power. The fear of China s growing unilateralism drives major nations to strive to reduce the regional imbalance by banding together.

Sources said the Indian side has conveyed to the US that the quadrilateral grouping should not be conflated with the Indo-Pacific concept, and should be kept separate.

At the Indo-US dialogue, sources said there was a deep discussion on a free and open Indo-Pacific region. While the Foreign Ministers had exchanged views from the strategic perspective, the Defence Ministers had shared their perspective from military activities.

With the upgraded Quad mechanism, the thrust of discussions, if conflated, will give an impression of the grouping ganging up against one country China.

The Quadrilateral mechanism will work on agreeing to increase the possibilities of trade and connectivity. But the subtext of discussions on connectivity is that the four like-minded countries need to work on providing a credible alternative to China s Belt and Road Initiative.

In the past, the four countries have come out with separate statements. India has pushed for a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region based on the recognition of ASEAN centrality and respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, rule of law, good governance, free and fair trade, and freedom of navigation and overflight.