In a significant development for the region, the Quadrilateral Strategic Dialogue (“the Quad”) between India, Australia, Japan and the U.S. held its first Minister-level meeting since it was revived in 2017. The group, which met in New York on Thursday, is seen as a regional counter-weight to China and has only met at the Joint or Assistant Secretary level since 2017.
The Ministers “met to discuss collective efforts in our shared commitments and close cooperation on counter terrorism, mentoring, assistance in disaster relief, airtime security, cooperation, development, finance and cybersecurity efforts,” a senior State Department official told reporters in New York.
The high-level meeting “demonstrates a shared commitment of our respective leadership to institutionalise this gathering of like-minded Indo-Pacific partners” , a second official present at the briefing said. The official then suggested that “formalise” was a more apt description than “institutionalise”.
India has been hesitant about the Quad, in part because it does not want to isolate China and because it has had a history of staying clear of security alliances.
At the briefing, the State Department official went on to emphasise India’s role.
“If I could single out India’s role in the quad, I think it highlights India’s leadership in the end of the Pacific region. It’s one of the many ways that the U.S. and India are now cooperating closely on shared strategic objectives.”
Asked by The Hindu what had changed this year with regard to India’s participation, the official said, “There’s recognition that, you know, in the past we didn’t have that similar like-mindedness necessarily among the four partners and over the past two years, you know, we’ve been able to demonstrate what’s changed.”
“We have a shared evaluation of those security threats and the threats facing the region when countries don’t have options to develop in a sustainable and free manner. And that’s really brought our four nations together,” the official said, adding, “ Again, I would emphasise as, one mechanism, one architecture that complements and supplements, you know, other formats that we are all engaged in to promote the free and open Indo-Pacific.”
The official also emphasised that the U.S., India and other Quad countries were “resolute” in their view of the centrality of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) in South East Asia. The notion of ASEAN centrality broadly refers to the group of countries being at the centre of security and strategic frameworks for the Asia-Pacific region.
Members of the Quad, barring Australia, are currently engaged in the annual Malabar exercises – military exercises that started between India and the U.S. in 1994 and became trilateral (with Japan) in 2015. India has not permitted Australia to participate in these exercises, concerned about what message it would send to China, which is wary of the exercise.
An official at Thursday’s briefing said the exercises did not come up during the Foreign Ministers’ discussions.
“There wasn’t a direct conversation on Malabar…we welcomed the opportunity to work with India and Japan in this setting and I leave open the question of any future modifications.”
The Indian government had not released a press statement on Thursday’s meeting as of writing.
Senior officials of the group will meet on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Bangkok in November.