External Affairs Minister Jaishankar heads for Tokyo for Quad meeting

External Affairs Minister Jaishankar heads for Tokyo for Quad meeting

Beijing has criticised meeting as an ‘exclusive clique’

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar will meet the other foreign ministers of the Australia-India-Japan-United States Quadrilateral or Quad in Tokyo on Tuesday, which is seen as a significant turning point for the grouping, led by growing concerns over China in the region.

Officials aware of the agenda say that cooperation on 5G connectivity, cybersecurity, a supply chain initiative for manufacturing, maritime cooperation and infrastructure and connectivity, as well as distribution plans for the COVID-19 vaccine are all areas where alternatives to Chinese initiatives will be discussed.

Beijing has already criticised the meeting as an “exclusive clique”, “an anti-China front line” and even a “mini-NATO” led by the U.S.’s “cold war mentality”, making it clear it will watch the outcomes closely, even as its tensions with each of the Quad countries grows.

Malabar exercise

The meeting on Tuesday will begin with a “regional assessment”, including developments in the South and East China Sea, the six-month stand-off at the Line of Actual Control (LAC), Hong Kong and Taiwan, where China’s aggressive moves have been most marked. The four ministers will also discuss the issue of including Australia in the next edition of the Malabar naval exercises, scheduled to be held in November. However, there is still no clarity on the final decision. Any announcement on Malabar would be made by the Ministry of Defence, a government official said.

Building trade ties is also on the agenda, as Japan is keen to push a plan for a trilateral “Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI)” with India and Australia to reduce dependence on Chinese manufacturing, especially as India has refused to be a part of the ASEAN-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

India will also discuss how other Quad countries can help with building “East-West” connectivity from India to ASEAN countries, to counter the “North-South connectivity” from China, as well as joint funding for infrastructure and connectivity projects in the Indo-Pacific region. A U.S. plan for a “Blue Dot Network” to rate infrastructure projects for funding, announced in January, is likely to be discussed as well.

Bilateral meetings

Mr. Jaishankar will also hold bilateral meetings with Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and his Australian and U.S. counterparts Marise Payne and Mike Pompeo separately during his two-day Tokyo visit, where bilateral defence cooperation will be a common theme.

Each of the foreign ministers had made a special effort to attend this meeting, said diplomatic sources, indicating that the Trump administration was particularly keen to hold the meeting before U.S. elections next month so that a common understanding on China, as well as the road map for the future year could be reached.

Secretary of State Mr. Pompeo is travelling despite health concerns over President Donald Trump, who is in hospital with COVID-19. Mr. Pompeo has cancelled trips to Seoul and Ulan Bator scheduled this week, but could reschedule later this month, when he is expected to travel to Delhi for the “2+2” Foreign-Defence Ministers’ meetings.

Ms. Payne, who has only travelled to the U.S. during the pandemic, given Australia’s strict “no exemption” two-week quarantine rule, is making a special effort to attend as well, as is Mr. Jaishankar, whose only other visit has been to Moscow for the SCO (Shangai Cooperation Organisation) summit and to meet with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi.

Japan’s special push

Japan itself made a special push to host the meeting, which was earlier due to take place in Delhi, as the new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is keen to show his commitment to the Quad process, which was conceived by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

While the Quadrilateral has thus far met at joint secretary levels twice a year since it was revived in 2017, the foreign ministers only met once before on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in 2019, and are likely to discuss making talks at this level a more permanent feature.

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