Munich, Feb 20 (PTI). Dismissing the notion that the Quad is an Asian NATO, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has said that there are “interested parties” who advance such analogies and one should not slip into it, underlining that the four-nation grouping is a kind of 21st century way of responding to a more diversified and dispersed world.
Jaishankar was speaking during a panel discussion on ‘A Sea Change? Regional Order and Security in the Indo-Pacific’ at the Munich Security Conference (MSC) 2022 on Saturday evening. “Quad is a grouping of four countries who have common interests, common values, a great deal of comfort, who happen to be located at four corners of the Indo-Pacific, who found out that in this world no country, not even the US, has the ability to address global challenges all on their own,” Jaishankar said.
Jaishankar dismissed the notion that the four-member grouping is an Asian-NATO as completely misleading term and said there are interested parties who advance that kind of analogies. “I would urge you not to slip into that lazy analogy of an Asian-NATO. It isn’t because there are three countries who are treaty allies. We are not a treaty ally. It doesn’t have a treaty, a structure, a secretariat, it’s a kind of 21st century way of responding to a more diversified, dispersed world,” he said on the Quad grouping which has the United States, India, Australia and Japan as its members.
The incarnation of the Quad started in 2017. It’s not post-2020 development, he said, referring to the tension along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh with China. “Our relations with the quad partners — the US, Japan and Australia — have steadily improved in the last 20 years. The quad has a value in itself. It is four countries who recognise today that the world would be a better place if they cooperated. And that’s essentially what’s happening,” the minister said. He said that the Quad has a range of views on its COVID-19 vaccine project, including on the TRIPS waiver, and observed if it was right to conduct “business as usual” when it comes to producing vaccines to contain the once-in-a-century pandemic with such horrific consequences. “The Quad has agreed to do a vaccine project. I don’t think the quad necessarily has an identical view on all subjects, including on the TRIPS waiver. I think we have a range of views on that. Perhaps ours are, in my view, the most progressive. “The point which is troubling is… if you have a once-in-a-century pandemic with such horrific consequences and then say it has to be business as usual when it comes to producing vaccines, ask yourself- are we doing the right thing?” Jaishankar said.
In October 2020, India and South Africa had submitted the first proposal, suggesting a waiver for all WTO (World Trade Organisation) members on the implementation of certain provisions of the TRIPs Agreement in relation to the prevention, containment or treatment of COVID-19. In May last year, a revised proposal was submitted by 62 co-sponsors, including India, South Africa, and Indonesia. Jaishankar said that one of the deep worries for the international order is that large parts of the world will be under or non-vaccinated. “This will be stretching out of a pandemic possibly which need not have happened. If we collectively had had more effective policies,” he said. He said that it is not just with the issue of vaccines but the same is happening when it comes to climate change.
“And this is not a one-off on vaccines. I would argue that is what is happening on climate change as well. We get these homilies on how this is an existential issue but when it comes down to actually putting resources or spreading technology for public good, we don’t see that. There are real issues, I think the global south has serious concerns,” Jaishankar said during the discussion.
Jaishankar said that India will come out of the COVID-19 pandemic more competitive. “We expect a 9.2/9.3 growth rate this year which I think is more than decent. Secondly, our exports are at a record high. So it shows that despite not being a member of free trade arrangements, the reforms we have done, the belt tightening we have done, and the learnings of the COVID period have actually created a fairly resilient economy,” he said.
It is working on assuring more reliable supply chains, it is looking at critical emerging technologies, making sure that 5G, 6G domains are trusted and transparent. It is looking at promoting education, maritime security, ensuring that connectivity projects are market-based and viable. “There is a lot of a global element to what Quad is doing. Now, obviously, if there are challenges to global norms, global order, to international law, to rules-based order, it makes sense that anybody who is working for the good will also look at the challenges to the good,” Jaishankar said.
Speaking about connectivity, Jaishankar said that each of the Quad partners today has a connectivity initiative as the EU and if connectivity initiatives are based on similar outlooks like the vaccine policy, it’s natural that you would congregate, synergise and see how it works for each other. “We would certainly encourage countries whose connectivity principles and policies are similar and I have spent some time discussing with the German development minister how we can work our development policy much closer. It is a conversation we have had with the Japanese, Americans, Australians within Quad but a lot of them are bilateral as well and I think this is going to be among the big issues in international relations in the coming decades,” he stressed.
Replying to a query that a recent poll published last week indicates that the levels of trust between India and South East Asian countries is fairly low. India ranks 5th after Japan and the US, UAE and China, Jaishankar said that India’s relations with the ASEAN are growing well. “I am a politician, so I believe in polls. But I have never seen any polls which made any sense to me when it comes to foreign policy… but I would like to say that our relations with ASEAN are right now actually growing well…” he said.
He said that India has much stronger physical connectivity and security cooperation with the ASEAN. The country has signed agreements for military supplies to the Philippines and has strong bilateral relations with Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam among others. Talking about India’s G20 chairmanship next year, Jaishankar said that it would be too early to say anything. He said that being a very strongly contributing member to the G20, India’s priority is to make sure that the Indonesian chair of the G20 this year is completely successful.
Other panellists in the discussion included Jean-Yves Le Drian, French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, US Senator and Chairwoman of the Senate Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation Jeanne Shaheen and Lynn Kuok (Moderator), Shangri-La Dialogue Senior Fellow for Asia Pacific Security, International Institute for Strategic Studies.