With an eye on China’s activities in the region, India on Sunday said that the first meeting of its officials in Manila with those from the US, Australia and Japan — described as the “quadrilateral” — agreed that a “free, open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region serves the long-term interests of all countries in the region and of the world at large”.
The meeting, held a day before the ASEAN summit begins in the Philippines capital, also discussed the “common challenges of terrorism and proliferation linkages impacting the region”, according to the Ministry of External Affairs. Sources said India’s statement sought to connect the clandestine links between North Korea and Pakistan in the development of their nuclear programmes.
Sunday’s discussions took place in a quiet meeting room at the luxurious Diamond hotel near the Manila airport, hours before Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump landed in the afternoon. Modi and Trump met briefly during a “gala dinner” hosted by Philippines President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, and are expected to hold a structured bilateral meeting Monday.
The Prime Minister is also expected to meet his Australian and Japanese counterparts Malcolm Turnbull and Shinzo Abe in separate bilateral meetings, reflecting a sense of solidarity among leaders of the “quadrilateral”.
During the meeting of officials, key issues of common interest in the “Indo-Pacific region” were discussed, with an eye on China and the aim reaching a common ground on a “free and open” Indo-Pacific — an apparent reference to freedom of navigation on the South China Sea. The officials also discussed North Korea, according to statements issued by the Japanese and the Australians.
The last such meeting took place in 2007, after which Australia had quit such a dialogue mechanism. Chaired by Japanese officials, the meeting lasted over an hour and was attended by two MEA officials — joint secretary (East Asia) Pranay Verma, who handles India’s relations with China, Japan, North Korea and South Korea, and joint secretary (South) Vinay Kumar, who handles Australia and Philippines among other countries in the region.
The Indian statement struck a cautious note, with the MEA noting that the discussions focused on cooperation based on “converging vision and values for the promotion of peace, stability and prosperity in an increasingly inter-connected region that they share with each other and with other partners”. The Indian side “highlighted India’s Act East Policy as the cornerstone of its engagement in the Indo-Pacific region”, placing focus on the role of ASEAN and Southeast Asia.
Japan’s foreign ministry said they discussed measures to ensure a “free and open international order based on the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific”. It said that the participants discussed the direction for cooperation, including with countries in the region, in “upholding the rules-based order” and “respect for international law” in the Indo-Pacific.
Also part of the discussions, said Japan, were proliferation threats, “including North Korea’s nuclear and missile issues, against which maximized pressure needs to be applied, ensuring freedom of navigation and maritime security in the Indo-Pacific, and countering terrorism and other issues”. The Australian foreign ministry said that they shared the vision for increased prosperity and security in the Indo-Pacific region and to work together to ensure it “remains free and open”.
“The officials examined ways to achieve common goals and address shared challenges in the region. This includes upholding the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific and respect for international law, freedom of navigation and overflight; increase connectivity; coordinate on efforts to address the challenges of countering terrorism and upholding maritime security in the Indo-Pacific,” the Australian statement said, directly pointing to Chinese activities in the South China Sea. Canberra’s statement also named North Korea and said that officials agreed to work together to address threats to international peace and security posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including the DPRK’s nuclear and missile programmes.
The Australian statement indicated that this was the first of such discussions. “The participants committed to continuing quadrilateral discussions and deepening cooperation on the basis of shared values and principles,” it said.