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Early talks planned for Quad foreign ministers, national security advisers

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New Delhi: The foreign ministers and national security advisers of the Quadrilateral, a strategic forum between India, the US, Japan and Australia, are preparing to meet in September and October, as China’s foreign policy unnerves countries in the Indo-Pacific region.

Plans are afoot to organise back-to-back and in-person meetings ahead of the US Presidential polls in November.

However, no final call has been taken yet even as preparations for the summits are underway, ET has learnt. The Quad foreign ministers had met once earlier while foreign secretaries of Quad plus (Australia, Japan & New Zealand) have been holding virtual meetings to coordinate their positions on Covid.

While the Quad has so far refrained from giving a joint statement and aimed at cooperation across sectors, including maritime, cyber security and terrorism, the proposed meetings will be significant as China threatens territorial integrity of the Indo-Pacific nations, including India. India has so far refrained from using Quad as a tool to contain China. Incidentally, the talks are being planned amid a leadership change in Japan with PM Shinzo Abe, one of the biggest proponents of the partnership, stepping down.

The Quad engagement was revived in 2017 and there are speculations that the Malabar naval exercise off India’s coast may see Australian participation alongside the navies of India, the US and Japan.

Speaking at one of the premier US think tanks on Friday, US NSA Robert O’Brien said talks on security with India, Australia and Japan are being planned in September and October. O’Brien said he is likely to meet his counterpart from India in Hawaii in October while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would meet his counterparts in September and October.

The US NSA further said the United States had an “amazing amount of stake” in the Indo-Pacific region. “It’s really the engine of the world economy going forward and America’s gonna play a big role there. One of the ways that we can do that is providing for a safe and secure Indo-Pacific through our defense partnerships and our diplomatic partnerships with our allies.”

O’Brien said the Quad relationship, which has been denounced by China, was coming into its own and likely to pay huge dividends.

“We’re seeing a very assertive, a very aggressive China and the United States is not going to back down from its long-held principles that the world’s ocean ways and international waters should be free for navigation, and the same with space and with air rights and international airspace,” he claimed.

U.S.-China tension has risen in the run-up to the US election in November and the countries’ military forces have stepped up activities in the Indo-Pacific region.

On Thursday, the Pentagon expressed concern about China’s recent military exercises, including the firing of medium-range ballistic missiles in the South China Sea (SCS). China criticized a U.S. warship operation near the Paracel Islands, which China claims, along with most of the SCS.

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