Japan will chair the first quadrilateral meeting between senior officials of India, US, Australia and Japan on the margins of the ASEAN and East Asia summits in Manila on November 13-14, The Indian Express has learnt. While the initial proposal was to have the meeting at the leaders’ level, consultations between the four countries in the last two weeks led to the general consensus that they should first meet at the “working level” of senior officials, top sources have told The Indian Express.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who reaches Manila on November 12, will interact with US President Donald Trump, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during the East Asia summit. “We want to have a working level meeting… and the idea is not to raise the temperature on the other side,” a diplomat from one of the quadrilateral countries said, in an oblique reference to China.
This comes after Japan publicly proposed the quadrilateral with India, US and Australia last month, and then Canberra indicated its willingness to be a part of the political-security dialogue among the four democracies, with an eye to counter China’s aggressive maritime expansion under its Belt and Road Initiative.
Earlier, South Block sources had said the Indian government has got the “necessary positive feedback” from the partners over the last week. “There is some level of enthusiasm to the dialogue…. All four sides will have to flesh out the details and arrange a meeting of the key interlocutors. We may start with the official level and may take it up the hierarchy… a ministerial-level, and could even be at leaders’ level (President/Prime Ministers). Let’s see how this plays out,” a source had said.
The Indian position was articulated within a day of the Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono’s proposal, when Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said India was “open to working with like-minded countries on issues that advance our interests and promote our viewpoint. We are not rigid in this regard… As far as we are concerned, we have an open mind to cooperate with countries with convergence, but obviously on an agenda which is relevant to us.”
This was reiterated by Kumar on Thursday at the ministry’s weekly briefing.
The US has reacted positively to the Japanese proposal. Alice G. Wells, the US acting assistant secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs and Acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said: “The quadrilateral that the Japanese foreign minister discussed would be building on what has been a very productive trilateral that we have with India and Japan, and if you look at the largest military exercise that we do, Malabar, Japan is a part of that exercise. As we explore ways to deepen and try to inculcate some of the values — freedom of navigation, maritime security, humanitarian assistance, disaster response, transparency — obviously, Australia would be a natural partner in that effort as well.”
New Delhi has earlier cited several trilaterals, ranging from Russia-India-China trilateral to India-US-Afghanistan meetings to show its “broad acceptability” of such groupings. The idea is for the leaders of the four nations to promote free trade and defence cooperation across a stretch of ocean from the South China Sea, across the Indian Ocean and all the way to Africa.