The Ukraine conflict, South China Sea, challenges in the Indo-Pacific and the issue of Terrorism figured prominently during the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) Foreign Ministers’ meeting here on Friday. In the joint statement issued after the meeting, foreign ministers of the group, which consists of India, Australia, US and Japan, sharpened their focus on Ukraine but avoided mentioning Russia. The ministers in the joint statement also opposed unilateral actions aimed at changing the status quo or increasing tensions in the South and East China Seas, in what was a strong signal to Beijing.
The joint statement unveiled new initiatives to ramp up cooperation to tackle key challenges across the Indo-Pacific region. This included the creation of the Quad working group on counter-terrorism to counter new and emerging forms of terror. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar chaired the meeting with Australian foreign minister Penny Wong, Japan Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“The meeting reaffirms the Quad’s steadfast commitment to supporting a free and open Indo-Pacific, which is inclusive and resilient. We (foreign minister) strongly support the principles of freedom, rule of law, sovereignty and territorial integrity, peaceful settlement of disputes without resorting to threat or use of force and freedom of navigation and overflight, and oppose any attempt to change the status quo, all of which are essential to the peace, stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region and beyond,” said the joint statement.
On Ukraine, the statement said that the Quad countries underscored the need for a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine in accordance with international law, including the UN Charter.
“We continued to discuss our responses to the conflict in Ukraine and the immense human suffering it is causing and concurred that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible. We emphasised that the rules-based international order must respect sovereignty, territorial integrity, transparency and peaceful resolution of disputes,” the joint statement read.
On China, the Quad members expressed concern over the militarisation of waters around China in the backdrop of a flare-up in tensions between Washington and Beijing. The joint statement called for “the importance of adherence to international law” in the East and South China Seas to meet challenges to the maritime rules-based order”. The statement did not explicitly name China. “We strongly oppose any unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo or increase tensions in the area,” it said. “We express serious concern at the militarisation of disputed features, the dangerous use of coast guard vessels and maritime militia and efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore resource exploitation activities,” it added. In fact, China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars in trade passes annually.
On terrorism, the Quad foreign ministers reiterated their condemnation of terrorist attacks, including 26/11 Mumbai, which claimed lives of citizens from all Quad countries, and the Pathankot attack, in which seven security personnel were killed. Without naming Pakistan, the joint statement sought accountability for the perpetrators of such terrorist attacks, including through designations by the UN Security Council 1267 Sanctions Committee.
“We unequivocally condemn terrorism and violent extremism in all its forms and manifestations. We denounce the use of terrorist proxies and emphasize the importance of denying any logistical, financial or military support to terrorist organisations which could be used to launch or plan terrorist attacks, including transnational and cross-border attacks.”
“We express our concern at attempts to politicise the working of the UNSC Sanctions Regimes and call on all states to maintain the transparent, objective and evidence based working methods of UNSC Sanctions Committees.” This point in the joint statement is also a message for both Pakistan and China.