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Working group on space to be among Quad leaders' announcements

By Lalit K Jha
September 24, 2021 17:07 IST
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Leaders of Quad countries -- Australia, India, Japan and the United States -- would announce a new working group on space, a supply chain initiative and a 5G deployment and diversification effort apart from discussing issues like challenges in the Indo-Pacific, climate change and COVID-19 pandemic during their historic meeting in Washington, DC on Friday, the White House has said.

 

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes part in the First Quad Leaders' Virtual Summit with US President Joe Biden, Australian PM Scott Morrison and Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga, in March 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo

At the invitation of President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his counterparts Scott Morrison from Australia and Yoshihide Suga from Japan have gathered in the American capital for the first-ever in-person Quad summit at the White House.

Quad leaders are also planning to roll out vaccine deliverables and announce a series of measures in the field of healthcare and infrastructure sector, officials in Washington, DC said.

'The leaders are hopeful for an opportunity in an intimate setting to sit down and talk about issues of mutual interest and concern. They'll have discussions on critical issues that are confronting the Indo Pacific; issues associated with climate change, with matters relating to COVID. They will also talk about how to advance infrastructure,' a senior administration official said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official noted that the Quad has been all about advancing areas of mutual interests.

'You will also see that the leaders are determined to pool our unique capabilities, our resources and our expertise to make common challenges,' the official said.

The White House official underscored that the Quad is an unofficial gathering.

'Although we have a number of working groups, and we are deepening cooperation on a very daily basis, it is also the case that it is not a regional security organisation.

'We are going to address particular issues associated with the challenges confronting the Indo Pacific in the current environment,' the official said, adding that that's what the leaders want to focus on.

India, the US and several other world powers have been talking about the need to ensure a free, open and thriving Indo-Pacific in the backdrop of China's rising military manoeuvring in the region.

China claims nearly all of the disputed South China Sea, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts of it. Beijing has built artificial islands and military installations in the South China Sea.

'President Biden believes that too often these kinds of discussions are scripted and he really wants to be able to sit down and have a deeper conversation with all leaders in an environment where they can really share perspectives on what's important to each of them as they go forward,' the official said.

The White House official underscored this is a clear and emblematic indication of the strategy of diplomacy.

'It also indicates that the Biden administration understands that the challenges of the 21st century will largely play out in the Indo-Pacific and we are doubling down on our efforts. This quad is part of a larger fabric of engagement that you will see,' the official said.

In November 2017, India, Japan, the US and Australia gave shape to the long-pending proposal of setting up the Quad to develop a new strategy to keep the critical sea routes in the Indo-Pacific free of any influence.

'You have already seen evidence of, with very high level, bilateral engagements with security partners, other steps that we've taken and we believe that the Quad will be a key and critical format and forum for discussion and joint purpose as we head into a challenging period ahead,' the official said.

On the deliverables, the White House official said that the Quad leaders will be announcing a supply chain initiative.

'The effort is really a detailed joint initiative to map overall capacity, identify the respective vulnerabilities, and to take critical steps to bolster supply chain security, particularly for semiconductors and all their vital components,' the official said.

The goal is to ensure Quad partners take their steps to support a somewhat diverse and competitive market that produces secure critical technologies that are essential for digital economies globally.

'We're also going to announce a 5G deployment and diversification effort. This is to support the quite a critical role of Quad governments in fostering and promoting a diverse resilient secure intelligent telecommunications ecosystem,' said the senior administration official.

They would also announce a STEM -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- scholarship programme.

'We will also announce a major fellowship that will bring students from India, from Japan, from Australia and the United States 100 in total, over the course of the next year and a half to study in elite universities in the United States, in areas related to science and technology as a clear signal of the importance of these issues to all of our country's futures,' said the senior administration official.

The Quad fellowship, the official said, is sponsored by private donors which will bring 100 students per year 25 from each quad country to pursue either a master's or doctoral degree at a leading STEM graduate university in the United States.

'That's a big deal for us and that's a signature initiative designed to indicate that we want and encourage Quad countries to send their best students to work with us and to build those lines of communication, coordination with young people,' the official said.

The Quad leaders, the official said, would be announcing new working groups on space.

'We will have an initiative on space. I think all four countries are determined to work on joint efforts. We are going to share information on illegal fishing and issues associated with maritime domain awareness. We are also taking steps to help monitor climate change and promote a variety of issues associated with estuaries and fishing more generally,' the official said.

Quad countries already have a robust cybersecurity effort underway and it is going to be enhanced at the leader level.

'We're going to try to take steps to bolster critical, critical inner infrastructure resilience against cyber threats, something that's plagued all four of our countries. We are advancing a very high-level group on specific capabilities and technologies,' the official said.

'We have got some specific steps that we're taking in the climate, green shipping network, and this has to do with how to decarbonise, what we call the shipping value chain. We are also taking specific steps to work with ports in each of our countries, to ensure that best practices are followed with respect to decarbonising efforts there as well,' said the official.

Responding to a question, the official underscored that Quad and AUKUS are two completely separate initiatives; they really have nothing to do with one another, even though there is some overlap with Australia.

AUKUS (Australia, the UK and the US) security partnership was unveiled last week by President Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Morrison.

'The Quad is a discussion and engagement effort around a number of practical matters like COVID and issues associated with climate change. There is not a military dimension to it or a security dimension to it. And it is an informal grouping,' the official said.

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Lalit K Jha
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