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First Quad leaders’ meeting likely to be held this month

Stressing that the Quad is “central” to the Indo-Pacific, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he has already spoken to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about it.

Scott Morrison

The first-ever meeting of the leaders from the Quadrilateral grouping is in the works, the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed on Friday, saying leaders of the four countries will work together “constructively for the peace, prosperity and stability of the Indo Pacific”.

Stressing that the Quad is “central” to the Indo-Pacific, Morrison said he has already spoken to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about it.

While it is not clear if the meeting will be in-person or virtual, a US news website, Axios, reported that US President Joe Biden plans to meet the leaders of Japan, Australia and India at the virtual summit of the Quad this month.

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There was no official confirmation from the Ministry of External Affairs, but sources in Delhi told The Indian Express that March 12 is being explored as a possible date.

Sources said four leaders will be gathering at the G-7 summit in the UK in June this year, where both the Indian and Australian PMs have been invited. And that offers an opportunity for an in-person meeting of the Quad leaders as well.

When asked about Quad, Morrison told reporters in Sydney: “This was one of the first things that President Biden and I discussed when we spoke some weeks ago, and I spoke to Vice President Harris just this past week. The Quad is very central to the United States and our thinking about the region and looking at the Indo Pacific also through the prism of our ASEAN partners, and their vision of the Indo Pacific. So yes, the Quad is very central, I think, to our ongoing arrangements. The President, and indeed the Secretary of State, have made clear that their re-engagement in multilateral organisations, particularly in the Indo Pacific is key to building stability and peace in the Indo Pacific. We share that view, we encourage that view.”

“We strongly welcome that view and so I am looking forward to that first gathering of the Quad leaders, it’ll be the first ever such gathering. I’ve already had bilateral discussions about this with (Indian PM) Narendra Modi and (Japan PM) Yoshihide Suga. And we’re looking forward to those discussions and follow-up face-to-face meetings as this will become a feature of Indo Pacific engagement,” he said.

“It’s not going to be a big bureaucracy with a big Secretariat and those sorts of things; it will be four leaders, four countries working together constructively for the peace, prosperity and stability of the Indo Pacific, which is good for everyone in the Indo Pacific. It’s particularly good for our ASEAN friends and those throughout the Southwest Pacific, to ensure that they can continue on with their own sovereignty and their own certainty for their own futures,” Morrison said. By putting a Quad meeting on the President’s schedule, the White House is signalling the importance of partnerships and alliances to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

Biden has spoken with each leader individually, but putting them together gives an early boost to the burgeoning group, which some have suggested could grow into an Asian version of NATO. After Biden spoke with Modi in February, the White House said the leaders would work toward “a stronger regional architecture through the Quad.”

Last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken joined a virtual summit of Quad foreign ministers, including External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar. They offered a veiled criticism of China by pledging “to strongly oppose unilateral and forceful attempts to change the status quo in the context of the East and South China Sea.”

For the first time since the Quad mechanism was revived in 2017, India on February 18 used the term “Quad” in its official statement after the foreign ministers’ meeting, aligning its nomenclature to the one used by the US and Australia in the four-country grouping.

After the meeting, New Delhi had underlined the “commitment to upholding a rules-based international order, underpinned by respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, rule of law, transparency, freedom of navigation in the international seas and peaceful resolution of disputes”.

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