The External Affairs Minister (EAM) Mr. S. Jaishankar will visit Australia and the Philippines for the first time as India’s EAM between Feb. 10-13 and 13-15, 2022 respectively. Both these visits are important as India has embarked on a journey to mark its footprints in the Indo-Pacific. With Australia, India shares the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue which is increasingly getting prominence in the Indo-Pacific. On the other hand, the recent defence deal worth of $375 million with the Philippines to deliver BrahMos shore-based anti-ship missile system has given a timely boost to the defence and security partnership between Manila and New Delhi.
Mr. Jaishankar is set to participate in the 4th Quad Foreign Ministers Meeting on Feb. 11 in Melbourne. Last year the four foreign ministers from Japan, US, Australia and India had a virtual meeting due to the pandemic situation. This year, the ministers are expected to discuss the regional issues and deliberate on a common vision for the peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific. They can also discuss about infrastructure development in the Indo-Pacific, health care, Covid-19, supply chain disruptions and resiliency as well as climate change. These are some of the concerns which require comprehensive and holistic approach to resolve.
In infrastructure, the Quad and non-Quad countries can cooperate with each other in the Indo-Pacific to advance sustainable efforts and progresses. Japan’s Expanded Partnership for Quality Infrastructure, EU’s Globally Connected Europe strategy, the Blue Dot Network of the US, infrastructure trilateral between US, Japan and Australia, Asia-Africa Growth Corridor by India and Japan are just a few of the recent efforts taken by these countries to develop infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific. Some of these initiatives are supply-driven and therefore need more calculated approach to be demand-driven and increase sustainability. In order to minimize some of the challenges in trade and infrastructure developments in the Indo-Pacific, India, Japan and Australia have launched the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI) in April 2021. This initiative is meant to fight the supply chain vulnerabilities. However, the SCRI initiators have different international trading, financial and economic outlooks making SCRI a difficult choice to implement and practise. Climate change is another challenge for the stability in the Indo-Pacific. The physical impact of climate change includes food scarcity, water insecurity, forced migration and displacement. Climatically, the countries will experience increases in the average temperature, heat waves, frequent floods and melting of glaciers. These environmental and other non-traditional security threats may increase the tendency of the humankind to involve into traditional geopolitical competitions over resources leading to climate war, race to acquire more weapons, insurgency and conflicts. Given these liabilities of the Indo-Pacific countries, it is only natural for the Quad countries to discuss and try to address the concerns together. The Foreign Ministers Meeting need to address these issues.
Apart from the Quad FM level meeting, Mr. Jaishankar is also expected to co-chair the 12th Foreign Ministers’ Dialogue and the inaugural Foreign Ministers’ Cyber Framework Dialogue with his Australian counterpart. According to the MEA, Government of India’s press release, the foreign ministers of India and Australia are supposed to see the progress made towards the “implementation of the India-Australia Framework Arrangement on Cyber and Cyber-Enabled Critical Technology Cooperation and the subsidiary Plan of Action”, signed at the side lines of the Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Scott Morrison’s Virtual Leaders’ Summit in June 2020. Cyber security poses another serious challenge to the Indo-Pacific countries, especially in terms of resources, regulatory frameworks and capacity building.
In Philippines, the EAM will meet the Secretary of the Foreign Affairs, Mr. Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. and discuss the regional and multilateral issues which are of common concerns to both the sides. In November 2020, both the leaders had co-chaired the virtual meeting of the Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation between India and the Philippines. Being an ASEAN member, which also shares maritime disputes with China on South China Sea islands, the Philippines occupies a notable position in India’s foreign policy. Manila and New Delhi also have Joint Defence Cooperation Committee which had its first meeting in Manila in 2012. Trade, investment, agriculture, health and tourism Joint Working Groups are also operational between India and Philippines.
Besides the G2G meetings and forums, the EAM will also meet the Indian diaspora and the trade communities in Melbourne and Manila reiterating India’s support for the soft power mechanisms including people-to-people contacts and cultural cooperation. New Delhi already has several agreements and memorandums of understanding with both the capitals in education, cultural exchange and tourism. Such endeavours will enhance New Delhi’s partnerships with Australia and the Philippines.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Dr. Sampa Kundu, Consultant, ASEAN-India Centre at RIS, New Delhi