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Quad should eventually become formalised, says top U.S. Official

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun. File   | Photo Credit: AP

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun has said that eventually the Quad group of countries — India, the U.S., Japan and Australia — should become more formalised once the parameters of cooperation were understood. His statement comes days after the Defence Ministry announced that Australia will join the other three Quad countries in the Malabar naval exercises, three years after it had requested to participate in the exercise.

“I will say that it is our view that in the passage of time, the Quad should become more regularized and at some point formalized as well as we really begin to understand what the parameters of this cooperation are and how we can regularize it,” Mr Biegun said on a briefing call to reporters on Wednesday.

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“That's very important because the type of cooperation that we would gain in the Quad and ultimately in working with other countries in the Indo-Pacific is to have the practice of cooperation in place when we face a crisis, whether that comes in terms of natural disaster, economics, or even security.”

Mr. Biegun, who is the second highest U.S. State Department official, was discussing his trip to India and South Asia last week and responding to a question on whether South Korea had been asked to join a “Quad plus” (expanded Quad) grouping. Mr Biegun said there is no policy to expand the Quad.

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The Quad has been viewed by Beijing with suspicion — and India had been reluctant to include Australia in the Malabar exercise out of concern that it would be viewed as a strategy to contain China. The India-China relationship is under the highest strain it has seen in recent decades following deadly clashes this summer along the Line of Actual Control.

“Yeah, let me slightly quibble with the underlying question that there's no, there's no designed policy for Quad expansion that is being advocated by the United States. In fact, our view is that there are a number of associations …among the Indo-Pacific nations that are worth reinforcing...,” he said.

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“And also I want to importantly underscore that the real value…in fact the genesis of the Quad is cooperative action in areas outside of security. The Quad started with the combined effort to respond to a natural disaster [ the December 2004 Tsunami]. And over time it's maintained, it is strong and even perhaps overwhelming element of cooperation in areas outside of the security realm, including economics, including people to people, but also other forms …” Mr. Beigun said, adding that the Quad is still a “somewhat undefined entity.”

“The Quad is still a somewhat undefined entity in and of itself. And so it's a little premature to even talk about the question of expanding the Quad.”

“That said there's a natural affinity among a number of nations in the Indo Pacific. For example, you would have seen…I think it's probably known that that when, when I referenced the regular engagement and cooperation between the United States in India over many, many months to coordinate actions in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic and also to plan the recovery, it wasn't just the Indian and United States deputy foreign ministers who were participating in that. We were also joined on a weekly basis by counterparts from Japan, Republic of Korea, Vietnam, New Zealand and Australia,” he said.

“But even that is not any sort of naturally defined group. I think there's an opportunity, certainly under in the U S view under the Indo-Pacific strategy for close engagement, among many, many other partners, including other countries in South Asia, like Bangladesh and … ASEAN nations as well, “he said.

“What you want to do is to have a certain modality of cooperation of interoperability of understanding the respective strengths that each partner can bring in facing any number of global challenges,” he said.

“So I'm not necessarily advocating for a ‘Quad plus’, but rather a continuation and regularization of the Quad with an eventual goal of understanding how it could be best formalized. And then also of course, welcoming a cooperation with any country in the Indo-Pacific that's committed to defending a free and open Indo-Pacific that guarantees sovereignty and prosperity for its members,” Mr. Biegun said.

On how a change in the U.S. administration would impact the U.S.-India relationship, Mr Biegun said that all presidents since Bill Clinton had left the U.S.-India relationship in better shape than they had found it.

“The real opening the United States and India began under president Clinton. It accelerated under president Bush and continued under president Obama. And it's accelerating again under …President Trump,” he said.

“…Every presidential administration here in the United States has left the relationship in even better shape than the one that inherited from its predecessor. And that is an amazing legacy.”

Mr. Biegun cited reasons for this including the two countries’ democratic systems, diaspora linkages and private sector engagement. He also said “negative incentives” were one of the factors driving the countries to make “very sound judgements about our interests.”

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2020 12:51:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/quad-should-eventually-become-formalised-says-top-us-official/article32903108.ece

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