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India to host Quad senior officials’ meeting


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New Delhi will host an official-level meeting of the Quad grouping with the U.S., Japan and Australia next week, the first such “Senior Officers Meeting” (SOM) to be held since tensions with China over Taiwan have risen. The Quad SOM meeting slated for September 5-6, is one of a number of meetings to be held between India and its Indo-Pacific partners in the week, seen as part of the government’s “balancing” moves ahead of the SCO summit in Uzbekistan in mid-September. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend the SCO summit along with leaders of Russia, China, Pakistan, Central Asia and Iran, the first such in-person summit since the COVID pandemic and beginning of the Ukraine war.

Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) officials will follow the Quad meeting with an India-U.S. 2+2 “inter-sessional” meeting, with U.S. Assistant Secretary of States for South and Central Asia Donald Lu leading the American delegation to discuss bilateral issues. Senior counterparts from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) Deputy Secretary Justin Hayhurst, and the Director General of the Foreign Policy Bureau in Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Keiichi Ichikawa will attend the meetings on Monday and Tuesday, which will review progress in a number of Quad initiatives that were discussed during the Quad summit in Tokyo in May this year.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will also travel to Tokyo later in the week for an India-Japan “2+2” ministerial meeting. In addition, Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal will travel to the U.S. for bilateral trade talks, September 5-10, as well as to attend the third Indo-Pacific Economic Forum ministerial meeting (IPEF) in Los Angeles, which is being held in person for the first time since its launch by U.S. President Joseph Biden in May. The meetings will take place amidst a particularly busy diplomatic calendar, as Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also begins her state visit to India on Monday.

I think this is a reflection of the close coordination and collaboration that we have with our partners — you know, the Quad partners, but also bilateral partners,” said MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi, when asked about the flurry of meetings, during a weekly media briefing on Thursday, but declined to confirm the dates.

“Japan is one of those few countries with whom we do a 2+2. And the U.S. is obviously the other one, which is the first one we started and I think we would look forward to the 2+2 inter-sessional with the U.S. here,” he added referring to the “2+2” ministerial mechanisms that India shares with only the Quad partners, and with Russia.

The officials will take stock of progress on Quad initiatives, including the six “leader-level” working groups — on COVID-19 Response and Global Health Security, Climate, Critical and Emerging Technologies, Cyber, Space, and Infrastructure. In particular, the Quad Vaccine Initiative, which was due to manufacture a billion vaccines at India’s Biological-E plant in Hyderabad with U.S. funding and Japanese and Australian logistics, appears to be running behind schedule, its deadline being end-2022. This will be discussed, said sources. In addition, while India is the only member of the Quad that is not a part of U.S. and EU sanctions against Russia for the war in Ukraine, the grouping is expected to discuss bolstering food security and energy security initiatives, given the wider impact of the war.

On Friday, the Commerce Ministry also announced Mr. Goyal’s visit to the U.S., saying his participation in the IPEF, which is not at present a trade agreement, “would focus on strengthening economic cooperation and enhancing resilience, sustainability, inclusiveness, economic growth, fairness, and competitiveness in the Indo-Pacific region”.

Significantly, the intensified engagement with India’s Quad partners will come a week ahead of India’s engagement with the Russia-China led SCO as well. Mr. Modi is expected to travel to Samarkand for the SCO summit during September 15-16, where he is expected to come face to face with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and leaders of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The visit will be watched most closely in the West, and amongst India’s Quad partners, for the engagement with Mr. Putin, as the war in Ukraine has completed more than six months.

In India, where the process of LAC disengagement has hit a roadblock, any contact with Chinese President Xi Jinping will be significant, as it would mark the first Modi-Xi engagement since the PLA’s transgressions at the LAC began in April 2020.

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