Eyes on QUAD After UNGA meet
| Ashok Dixit, Editor - Foreign Affairs, IOP - 29 Sep 2020

Neighbourhood Interaction Takes Precedence during UNGA Week

It is a well known fact that QUAD members individually do have differences with China. If the military stand-off in Ladakh is a sore point between India and China, then Australia’s move to stop some of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects has left Beijing fuming. Japan, on the other hand, has voiced concerns over recent intrusions by China near the Senkaku Islands in the South China Sea, whereas the US  and China are locked in a trade war.

By Ashok Dixit

Neighbourhood dialogue and related issues occupied centre stage last week on the sidelines of the 75th   session of the   U N General Assembly held in New York.

Following a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Moscow, Russia, which seemed more focussed on the bilateral five-point agreement reached between the Indian and Chinese foreign ministers on toning down “temperatures” on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in northern Ladakh, foreign ministers of eight South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) and the 27-member Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) engaged with each other virtually on September 24.

Nepal Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali chaired the SAARC virtual, which analysts saw as significant in view of Pakistan, represented by its Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, agreeing to take part in the regional forum interaction for the second time this year (the first time being in March).

Cautiously assessed, both virtuals were dominated by India and Pakistan verbal charges and counter charges. India’s External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar was particularly strident in his responses with regard to Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s move to use multilateral/regional platforms like SAARC and CICA to promote what he called “spurious narratives about India”.  Pakistan, he said, has no locus standi to comment on India’s internal affairs, including on developments taking place in Kashmir.

Dr. Jaishankar reiterated India’s commitment to realizing the goal of a pluralistic cooperative security order in Asia through SAARC and CICA, emphasizing that it was the need of the hour. He also spoke about India-Central Asia cooperation and initiatives being undertaken with regard to Indo-Pacific Ocean issues.

Both virtuals were also used to assess the regional fight and contributions to neutralizing Covid-19 and what more needed to be done with respect to vaccine developments. Counter terrorism and the peace process in Afghanistan also figured in the discussions.

India and Pakistan have not engaged bilaterally after the terrorist strike on Indian paramilitary troops in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama region on February 14, 2019. Both sides are now also at loggerheads over Pakistan’s presentation of a map that stakes its claim to Indian Territory (made during a virtual meeting of SCO National Security Advisors on September 16), as also Islamabad’s intent to declare the Gilgit-Baltistan region a “full-fledged” province with all “constitutional rights”.

It is a long-held tradition that SAARC foreign ministers’ do meet on the sidelines of the UNGA every year. Last year, foreign ministers of India and Pakistan skipped each other’s SAARC speeches in the wake of India deciding to withdraw the special status that had been granted to the then state of Jammu and Kashmir 66 years ago and redefining the nomenclature of the region through an act of parliament.

The SAARC foreign ministers’ meeting was followed by a virtual summit on Saturday between the Prime Ministers of India and Sri Lanka – Narendra Modi and Mahinda Rajapaksa. Both leaders reviewed bilateral ties, where emphasis was again placed on the need for Colombo to ensure devolution of power and rights to the minority Tamils, while at the same time giving a economic fillip to Buddhist cultural exchanges ($ 15 million). Regional and global developments, besides latest anti-Covid-19 strategies were also reviewed by the two heads of government.

Second Meeting of Quad

Japan has a new Prime Minister in Yoshihide Suga and his taking over of the helm of affairs in Tokyo from his predecessor-cum-mentor Shinzo Abe is expected to give fresh wind to efforts to create new Indo-Pacific partnerships.

Next month, Tokyo is expected to host the second meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) comprising primarily of US, India, Japan and Australia, besides other countries in the region with interests in the Indian Ocean.

Japan and India have already inked a bilateral military pact that enables both nations to exchange supplies and logistical support, “to help realize (the objective of) a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”

Though no announcement has been formally made as to the venue and dates of the proposed QUAD meeting, China can be expected to keep a very close watch.

The Indian external affairs ministry here in Delhi has only revealed that the four countries are in talks to decide the venue and the timing of the event.

It is a well known fact that QUAD members individually do have differences with China. If the military stand-off in Ladakh is a sore point between India and China, then Australia’s move to stop some of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects has left Beijing fuming. Japan, on the other hand, has voiced concerns over recent intrusions by China near the Senkaku Islands in the South China Sea, whereas the US  and China are locked in a trade war.

None of the QUAD members is particularly happy with attempted or alleged aggressive Chinese forays in the Indian Ocean and the Indo-Pacific region, and, therefore, the QUAD interaction is currently in overdrive.

A fortnight ago, it was revealed that India and Japan are keen to take their cooperation on projects in Bangladesh and Myanmar forward, while France has also joined India and Australia in a trilateral engagement on building Indo-Pacific convergences.

India-Nepal Railway Cooperation

Maharashtra’s 27-year-old Konkan Railway Corporation recently delivered two modern Diesel-Electric Multiple Unit (DEMU) trains to Nepal Railway.

The two 1600 Hp DEMU trains are to be used on the Jaynagar-Kurtha broad gauge railway line from November this year, a year-and-a-half after both railway entities inked a contract to supply the trains to facilitate train movement between Jaynagar in India and Kurtha in Nepal.

The distance between the two railway junctions is about 35 kilometres and forms a part of a under construction 69-kilometre-long railway line between India and Nepal that is divided into three sectors, according to a Himalayan Times report.

The sectors are Jayanagar to Kurtha (35 kilometres), Kurtha to Bhangaha in Mahottari (17 kilometres) and Bangaha to Bardibas (17 kilometers). The Jayanagar to Kurtha sector is the first of three to be activated and is the first modern railway in Nepal.

India-China Military Talks

Military talks between India and China are making progress very slowly. Corps-level military commanders assisted by senior diplomats met for a sixth time last Monday and Tuesday (21 & 22) at the Moldo checkpoint on the Chinese side of the LAC. A joint statement issued by both sides has only revealed that they have agreed to meet again “to find a common ground to reduce tensions in the Ladakh theatre.”

This includes a commitment not to engage in unilateral changes along the LAC or take any action that could complicate the ongoing negotiations. India can take some heart from Chinese President Xi Jinping’s UNGA statement on Tuesday (22) that he does not intend to launch a “Cold or Hot War”.

Ashok Dixit is a senior editor/journalist with over 30 years experience.

Image Caption -

1)  PM Narendra Modi Addressing UNGA Online – Courtesy Twitter Handle Narendra Modi

2) - Pope Francis to address the UN GA on Sep 25 Source Twitter HolySeeUN


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