New Delhi: The foreign ministers of the Quad grouping of India, the US, Australia and Japan on Friday held extensive talks in Melbourne amid escalating tension between Russia and NATO countries over Ukraine, the Afghan crisis and increasing concerns over China’s “coercion” in the Indo-Pacific region.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Australia’s Marise Payn jointly called on Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison ahead of their talks.
Australian Foreign Minister Payne said on Thursday that the fourth meeting of the Quad foreign ministers would focus on coronavirus vaccine distribution, countering terrorism and cooperation in maritime security and climate change.
In a statement, Payne also highlighted the need for ensuring that all Indo-Pacific nations are able to make their own strategic decisions, free from coercion, in remarks seen as a veiled reference to China’s increasing bullying in the region.
The Australian foreign minister said she was looking forward to welcoming her counterparts from India, the US and Japan to “discuss our positive and ambitious agenda in support of a secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific.”
“Together we are a vital network of liberal democracies committed to practical cooperation and to ensuring all Indo-Pacific nations, large and small, are able to make their own strategic decisions, free from coercion,” she said in a statement.
She further said: “We will discuss our work together on vaccine distribution in our region, cyber and critical technology, countering disinformation, counterterrorism, maritime security, humanitarian and disaster response, and climate change.”
It will be the third in-person meeting of Quad foreign ministers, following their meeting in Tokyo in October 2020 and the inaugural meeting in New York in September 2019.
The ministers last held talks virtually in February last year.
“As we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, our four countries have delivered more than 505 million (one million is equal to 10 lakh) vaccine doses under our pledge to donate more than 1.3 billion doses globally,” Payne said.
“We will continue to champion ASEAN’s centrality for the region’s stability and prosperity, including by supporting the practical implementation of ASEAN’s Outlook on the Indo-Pacific,” she added.
In March last year, US President Joe Biden hosted the first-ever summit of the Quad leaders in the virtual format that was followed by an in-person summit in Washington in September for which Prime Minister Narendra Modi had travelled to the US.
The Quad has been focusing cooperation in areas such as producing vaccines, connectivity projects, facilitating the mobility of students, and looking at promoting startups and technology collaboration.
The Quad vaccine partnership was announced in March last year with an aim to deliver one billion doses of vaccines to the Indo-Pacific region by the end of 2022.
It is learnt that there has been good progress under this initiative.
The production of Johnson and Johnson’s Janssen vaccines started at India’s Biological E facility in Hyderabad in October last year with the assistance of the US Development Financial Cooperation (DFC) through a credit line of USD 50 million to augment manufacturing capacity.
India is also open to supplying safe and affordable Made in India vaccines, such as COVOVAX and CORBEVAX, under the Quad vaccine partnership.
Following the launch of the Quad working group on critical and emerging technologies in March last year, four subgroups were established, with each country leading on one group.
The Quad is pursuing work on 5G technology and vendor diversification to maintain a diverse, open and interoperable telecommunication ecosystem through collaboration with like-minded partners.