India holds first 'quad' meet with US, Japan, Australia

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Japanese Prime Shinzo Abe (centre) and US President Donald Trump at the Asean Summit dinner in Manila on Sunday. Photo: PTI
Giving shape to their security cooperation under the proposed quadrilateral coalition, India, the US, Japan and Australia on Sunday held their first official talks here with a focus on keeping the Indo-Pacific region “free and open”, seen as a move to counter China’s aggressive behaviour in the area.

 
Soon after the meeting, India, Australia and Japan issued separate statements listing the Indo-Pacific as the major area of the deliberations and resolved to expand cooperation to uphold a rules-based order and respect for international law in the strategically important region. The meeting comes ahead of the Asean summit here on Tuesday which is also likely to discuss the security challenges facing the Indo-Pacific region and China's military expansion in the South China Sea. According to a press statement, officials of the four countries at the “quad” meeting 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.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi landed in the Philippines on Sunday to attend the Asean-India and East Asia summits. Before arriving in Manila, US President Donald Trump said in Hanoi on Sunday that he would be willing to mediate between China and five of its neighbours to resolve their competing claims in the South China Sea. The PM and other leaders attended the customary dinner on the eve of the summit. Modi is slated to have bilateral meetings with Trump and President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines on Monday.

On Sunday, Modi held separate pull-aside meetings with Trump and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on the sidelines of a gala dinner to mark the 50th anniversary of the Asean. Modi was also seen chit-chatting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. The prime minister as well as all other leaders wore Barong Tagalong, an embroidered shirt which is the national dress of the Philippines.

 
Last month, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and subsequently Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono has favoured expanding the India-Japan-US trilateral to include Australia. According to sources, the Chinese build-up in the South China Sea figured in the meeting. Tillerson had stressed upon the US desire to have India play a bigger role in the Asia Pacific region, and noted how China doesn't always conform to international laws. Beijing had later said it hoped the quad doesn't target its interests.  In an article published in leading newspapers in the Philippines on Sunday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said Beijing wanted to bilaterally resolve its disputes with its neighbours over the South China Sea.

Apart from Trump and Duterte, the Indian PM is also likely to have bilateral meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Russian Premier Dmitry Medvedev. The India-Asean Summit could see agreements being signed.

"Every single country in the Asean region wants India to be more engaged in the region in every possible way. That is the real synergy we have with Asean," Indian Ambassador to the Philippines Jaideep Mazumdar said. Prime Minister Modi will participate in the Asean business and investment summit as well as a meeting of leaders of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.


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