In a post-midnight announcement, New Delhi issued a press release of a virtual meeting of foreign ministers of the Quad countries – the United States, Australia, Japan and India. The announcement was simultaneously made by US state department spokesperson Ned Price as well who said, “The Quad, as it’s known, and this discussion with the Quad foreign ministers, is critical to advancing our shared goals of a free and open Indo-Pacific…”
Also, on the eve of the meeting, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday, “India is a critical partner, especially when you consider all of the challenges in the Indo-Pacific region.”
The India side mentioned in its press release that the leaders will discuss “regional and global issues especially practical areas of cooperation towards maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region”.
Though virtual, the meeting assumes significance as it will be the first with the participation of the new US secretary of state, Antony Blinken. In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Blinken had said that in all fairness the fact that Donald Trump took on China was right, however the way he went about it was wrong. This gave a clear indication that the US has been maintaining pressure on China. And last week the US navy’s carrier strike groups Theodore Roosevelt and Nimitz carried out exercises in the South China Sea.
Two days later President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart held a phone call in which the former touched on all issues sensitive to Beijing – from Taiwan to the crackdown in Hong Kong and the human rights abuses in Xinjiang. President Biden also called out China for its territorial aggression in the conversation.
Within a day of the US naval exercises in the South China Sea, China through its mouth piece Global Times announced that after nine long months, the disengagement process on the Line of Actual Control will begin at the Pangong lake. This announcement came as the official break for the Chinese New Year was to start and since then there has been no official announcement from China due to holidays.
It is significant to note that the last Quad ministerial meeting was held in Tokyo in October 2020 at the behest of India at the height of the tension around the LAC. India had been a hesitant partner in the Quad and the move by New Delhi last year to seek a ministerial meeting conveyed a clear focus it placed on the Quad to counter China. The-then US secretary of state Mike Pompeo flew down twice half the globe just ahead of the presidential election, first to Tokyo for the Quad meeting and then to India a few days later for the 2+2 dialogue. The first Quad ministers meeting was held in New York in 2019.