As Beijing feuds on multiple fronts simultaneously– for instance, the United States over trade and Covid-19, Hong Kong, India along the disputed Himalayan border and Taiwan – foreign ministers of major democracies in the Indo-Pacific and United States met in Tokyo showing growing solidarity and even a collusive diplomatic front against Beijing’s growing belligerence.
“The strength of our collaboration is a proud testament to the vision and legacy and a testament to the enduring power of democracy to bring free people together. All of us seek a free and open Indo-Pacific.” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said addressing his counterparts in Tokyo leaving little to imagination on what Quad intends to achieve.
“As partners in this Quad, it is more critical now than ever that we collaborate to protect our people and partners from the CCP’s exploitation, corruption, and coercion. We’ve seen it in the south, in the East China Sea, the Mekong, the Himalayas, the Taiwan Straits,” Secretary Pompeo added
The second bilateral meeting of the Quad -which comprises Australia, Japan, India and USA– was at a time when coronavirus crisis rocks the world.
The four countries are all set to carry out a joint naval exercise in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) in early November. The Indian Navy, one of the major navies in the region, is all set to expand the annual Malabar exercise to include Australia as a permanent member.
And, although Australia had participated in the naval exercise in 2007 it had refrained thereafter after angry protest from China. Now, an eagerness to participate has replaced the earlier reluctance.
“This important step in the continuing evolution of the Quad signals our steadfast commitment to working together to promote an open, inclusive, and resilient Indo-Pacific. It’s a diplomatic network that assists us as democracies to align ourselves in support of shared interests. We believe in a region governed by rules, not power,” Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said.
Tokyo hosting the meeting indicates that it will continue with the hawkish policy of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the key mover of the Quad grouping. Whereas, a brutal hand-to-hand combat on the disputed India-China border on June 15, which left 20 Indian and 35 Chinese soldiers dead in the worst border dispute in four decades pushed India closer to the US militarily, something Washington struggled to achieve in the past.
While US long wanted India by its side a firm counterweight to China, New Delhi has looked to balance its ties among global heavy weights like Russia and more recently China. But the current border dispute which threatens Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s muscular image has pushed India to shed its inhibitions and look for comfort in numbers.
“The fact that we are meeting here today in person despite a global pandemic is a testimony to the importance that these consultations have gained, particularly in recent times. Our world, you will all agree, is significantly different today than what it was when we met last year in New York in September, Indian foreign minister, S Jaishanker said underlining the new realities before New Delhi.
Minister Jaishanker stressed on the need for a “coordinated response” to various challenges by like-minded countries and added, “Our nations have affirmed collectively 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 international seas, and respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty and peaceful resolution of disputes.”