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Quad of India, US, Japan, Australia holds first ministerial meet on sidelines of UNGA

First meeting of foreign ministers of the Quad – India, Australia, Japan and the US – took place on the sidelines of UNGA to counter China’s growing might.

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Quad first ministerial meet

The first minister-level meet of Quadrilateral Strategic Dialogue (“the Quad”) between India, Australia, Japan and the US took place on Thursday, Sep 26 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in New York.

The Quad is seen as a bid by the four largest democracies of Indo-Pacific to counter China’s growing economic and political clout.

Significant shift in India’s approach

The minister-level meet is a significant change for India which, till last year, had refused to upgrade the Quadrilateral grouping with the US, Australia and Japan from join secretary to foreign secretary level. 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. The Quad, revived in November 2017, had so far met at the level of Joint Secretary-rank officials and the Thursday meet upgrades it by at least three levels.

The concept of the Quad was first generated more than a decade ago during the George W Bush administration before it went into a hiatus. Its recent revival reflects growing unease over Chinese President Xi Jinping’s more assertive foreign policy.

Present at the Thursday meet to discuss the Indo-Pacific strategy were India’s External affairs minister S Jaishankar, Japanese foreign minister Toshimitsu Motegi, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and Australia’s Marise Payne.

“Thank you #Quad Foreign Ministers @SecPompeo @moteging Aand @MarisePayne,” tweeted Jaishankar.

Pompeo tweeted: “Positive meeting with @MarisePayne, @DrSJaishankar, and @moteging. We discussed our shared interest in building a free and open #IndoPacific, denuclearization of #NorthKorea, and joint efforts to promote regional stability.”

Payne tweeted: “I met today in New York with my counterparts from the US, Japan and India to discuss our efforts to maintain and promote an open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific, and reaffirm our #Quad commitment to shared values and cooperation.”

After this, there has been no official statement from India on the meet.

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said in an emailed statement: “The ‘Quad’ countries reaffirmed their commitment to shared values and cooperation on maritime security, infrastructure and connectivity in support of rules-based frameworks.”

They discussed efforts to “maintain and promote an open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific”, and agreed to hold regular ministerial meetings, she said.

Issues discussed at the meeting

A senior US State Department official, according to The Hindu, told reporters in New York that 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.”

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”.

On India’s role

The State Department official emphasised 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.”

About what had changed this year with regard to India’s participation, The Hindu quoted the official as saying, “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 Quad countries are also clear about the centrality of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) in South East Asia, the group being at the centre of security and strategic frameworks for the Asia-Pacific region.

Quad and China

Members of the Quad, barring Australia, are currently engaged in the annual Malabar exercises – military exercises that started between India and the US 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. The issue was not discussed during the ministerial discussions, reported The Hindu.

The elevation of the discussion from official-level talks suggests the previously informal framework is being strengthened to improve intelligence-gathering and present a united front on regional security issues, with China at the forefront of those issues.

China has been increasing its economic influence, military might and diplomatic footprint in the Indo-Pacific.

According to the Times of India, on Saturday, S Jaishankar confirmed one of the topics up for discussion at the meeting would be Chinese oil prospecting in an exclusive economic zone of Vietnam. India had previously been the main holdout in furthering the group’s agenda, amid concerns in New Delhi that it could worsen ties with Beijing.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in November he sees the Quad as an “important sort of architecture in the region” that can cooperate economically, militarily and strategically.

China has made clear its opposition to the Quad’s “Indo-Pacific strategy”. In March 2018, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the bloc was a “headline-grabbing idea”.

“The four countries’ official position is that it targets no one,” Wang said. “I hope they mean what they say and their action will match their rhetoric. Nowadays, stoking a new Cold War is out of sync with the times and inciting bloc confrontation will find no market.”

The US and Australia, concerned that China may be looking to establish a military base in the South Pacific that would extend its military reach toward the Americas, have been striving to build an alternative model to Beijing’s state-directed lending for infrastructure projects. Those loans have raised concerns that poorer nations, saddled with debt, could be forced into increased reliance on Beijing.

The Quad members aim to finance infrastructure projects that are properly planned and financially sustainable, to increase the possibilities of trade and connectivity – although they don’t have nearly as much cash to offer as Xi’s Belt-and-Road Initiative, which Morgan Stanley says may total $1.3 trillion by 2027.

India News

Sri Lankan Minister Douglas Devananda says statements on reclaiming Katchatheevu island from Sri Lanka have no ground

Devananda told the media on Thursday that it is not unusual to hear such claims and counterclaims about Katchatheevu as elections are taking place in India.

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Sri Lankan Minister Douglas Devananda has said the statements from some political leaders in India on reclaiming Katchatheevu from the island nation have no ground. He told the media on Thursday that it is not unusual to hear such claims and counterclaims about the strategic island as elections are taking place in India.

The Sri Lankan Minister said he thought India is acting on its interests to secure this place to ensure Sri Lankan fishermen would not have any access to that area and that Sri Lanka should not claim any rights in that resourceful area. According to the 1974 agreement, Devananda said Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen can go fishing in the territorial waters of both countries until the pact was reviewed and amended in 1976.

The amended agreement resulted in fishermen from both countries being barred from fishing in neighboring waters. India’s ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Thursday steered clear of the row surrounding Katchatheevu island. To a volley of questions on the Katchatheevu issue, MEA spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal reffered to External affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s recent comments on the matter.

He said he would like to talk about the issue that has been raised. He added the External Affairs minister has spoken to the press here in Delhi and also in Gujarat and has clarified all the issues. He said everyone should look into the press engagements and they would find the answers to their questions there.

The remarks from Devananda, a Sri Lankan Tamil, came days after the Narendra Modi government accused the Congress and its ally DMK in Tamil Nadu of overlooking national interests by handing over Katchatheevu island to Sri Lanka in 1974. The BJP has also been slamming the 2 parties for not ensuring the rights of the fishermen wanting to fish in waters around the island.

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US reiterates its call for fair, transparent, legal process for Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, speaks on Congress frozen accounts

The US spokesperson said that they are also aware of the Congress party’s allegations that tax authorities have frozen some of their bank accounts in a manner that will make it challenging to effectively campaign in the upcoming elections.

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A day after India summoned an US diplomat over their remarks on the arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in the liquor policy case, the US reiterated its call for fair, transparent, timely legal processes on Wednesday.

Responding to questions on India summoning Gloria Berbena, the US Acting Deputy Chief of Mission in New Delhi, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said that they will continue to follow these actions closely, including the arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Notably, the meeting at the foreign ministry’s South Block office lasted nearly 40 minutes yesterday with India objecting strongly to the US remarks on the arrest of Arvind Kejriwal.

Matthew Miller also responded to a question on the Congress party’s frozen bank accounts. The US spokesperson said that they are also aware of the Congress party’s allegations that tax authorities have frozen some of their bank accounts in a manner that will make it challenging to effectively campaign in the upcoming elections. He added that the US encourages fair, transparent and timely legal processes for each of the issues.

Arvind Kejriwal was arrested last week by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in connection to the Delhi liquor policy scam. Earlier, AAP leaders Manish Sisodia, Satyendar Jain and Sanjay Singh were arrested in the same case.

The External Affairs Ministry had earlier stated that states are expected to be respectful of the sovereignty and internal affairs of others, and this responsibility is even more so in case of fellow democracies, adding that it could otherwise end up setting unhealthy precedents.

The Ministry further emphasized that India’s legal processes are based on an independent judiciary which is committed to objective and timely outcomes. It mentioned that casting aspersions on India’s legal procedure is unwarranted.

The United State’s remarks followed days after Germany’s Foreign Office stressed that Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal is entitled to a fair and impartial trial. The Indian government labelled their remark as blatant interference in internal matters.

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5 Chinese nationals killed in suicide bomb attack in Pakistan

This is the third major attack on Chinese interests in Pakistan within a week.

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Nearly five Chinese nationals were killed in an explosion during an attack on their convoy by a suicide bomber in northwest Pakistan on Tuesday. Reportedly, the suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into a convoy of Chinese engineers travelling from Islamabad to their camp in Dasu, situated in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Regional police chief Mohammad Ali Gandapur said that five Chinese nationals and their Pakistani driver were killed in the attack. As yet, none has claimed responsibility for the attack. Bisham Station House Officer (SHO) Bakht Zahir asserted that the incident was a suicide blast and the authorities concerned were collecting the evidence.

The Station House Officer further added that security arrangements were tightened at the spot and the bodies were being shifted to a hospital. He added that they will investigate from where and how the vehicle of a suicide bomber came and how it happened. Notably, this is the third major attack on Chinese interests in Pakistan within a week.

Previously, two attacks hit an airbase and a strategic port in the southwest province of Balochistan where China is investing billions in infrastructure projects. Several Chinese engineers and Pakistani construction workers have for multiple years been working on hydroelectric projects as part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative in the western province of Khyber-Paktunkhwa.

Notably, Dasu is home to a significant dam project, has been a target of previous attacks. Earlier in 2021, the attack in Dasu resulted in the deaths of nine Chinese nationals, along with two Pakistani children. The incident occured when a bus carrying Chinese engineers and workers to the Dasu Hydropower Project site was targeted.

There was confusion surrounding the nature of the attack initially, with some reports suggesting it was a bus accident. Nonetheless, subsequent investigations revealed that it was indeed a terrorist attack. The bus was hit by a blast, leading it to plunge into a ravine.

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