EAM Jaishankar shared Prime Minister Modi’s ‘mantra’ to make ‘the grouping a force for global good’. The Quad partners decide to intensify efforts in the same direction so as also to counter the disinformation campaign against the forum by Beijing

New Delhi: With China trying to belittle Quad in what is being seen as its strategy to launch a perception war against the forum, India shared with its partners—US, Australia and Japan—a comprehensive plan to counter Beijing on this agenda as well. As part of this, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar shared Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision for Quad—“Make the grouping a force for global good.” The Quad Foreign Ministers were told that “this vision is more relevant today in view of China’s agenda to malign the grouping and, thereby, provoking other Indo-Pacific and ASEAN countries against it.”

Jaishankar set the narrative and agenda for the strategy during the Quad Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Melbourne, saying, “We will work together to give shape and substance to the Quad’s positive agenda to make it in the words of my Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, ‘a force for global good’.”

Sources said, “After the briefing by EAM, the Quad members decided to intensify the ongoing efforts in a much bigger way to reach out to the nations in need of help and any kind of humanitarian assistance.” “Quad members realised that there is a pressing need to counter China on the front of perception war apart from on the front of its aggressive agenda in the Indo-Pacific,” say sources quoting diplomats from Australia.

Hours before the Quad Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Melbourne, China had said that “the four- nation alliance should stop driving wedges between regional countries in what was interpreted by the forum’s partners as nothing but Beijing’s strategy to malign the grouping and instigate other countries against it. “So, the Quad Foreign Ministers focused more on intensifying missionary tasks as part of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) to reach out to various other countries where China is seeking to grow influence,” sources told The Sunday Guardian.

The action was visible on the ground hours after the Quad Foreign Ministers’ meeting. India rushed a consignment of medical supplies containing PPEs and medications to Kiribati in view of the first Covid-19 outbreak in the Pacific Island country. Significantly, another Quad partner, Australia helped India in this work. “Despite the logistical challenges in reaching the isolated Pacific Island country, the medical supplies from India were put together and dispatched in a short span of time. The consignment reached Kiribati on 12 February onboard a flight coordinated by the Australian Government,” the MEA said. This affirms India’s commitment to provide HADR support as an early responder in the Pacific region, says the MEA. Significantly, China has several plans from upgrading airstrip to bridge construction in order to increase its presence in Kiribati, which controls one of the biggest exclusive economic zones in the world covering more than 3.5 million square kilometers of the Pacific. “The two Quad partners helping a nation where China is trying to expand influence is a tight slap on the face of Beijing, which is trying to brand the forum as an alliance ‘having an agenda of wedging drive between various nations of the region’,” says a diplomat.

Sources say Quad Foreign Ministers have several such plans up their sleeves in accordance with PM Modi’s vision, including reaching out to the beleaguered nations with humanitarian assistance, particularly the ones where Beijing is busy implementing its negative agenda. “The strategy is two-fold, First, it is about countering the battle of perception launched by Beijing against the Quad. Second, the move is aimed at dealing with the Chinese aggression in countries under its influence,” say diplomats.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also underlined the need to have a much larger Covid-19 global action plan to be implemented by the Quad countries. He also called for giving fillip to operations of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the countries in need. Blinken in fact signalled that China’s plan to wrongly paint Quad as a group having allegedly hegemonic agenda will not be allowed to succeed.

The joint statement by the Quad Foreign Ministers did stress on the need to counter disinformation campaigns in an obvious reference to China’s perception battle. “The Quad is supporting regional neighbours to build resilience and counter disinformation,” says the statement.

“If Quad partners say that they will continue to work together to try to bolster the international rules-based order for this entire region, what is wrong in it?” asks a diplomat. “It is China which is not adhering to written international laws. So, who is at fault?” he added. Sources say that the Quad top diplomats will be visiting ASEAN and Indo-Pacific nations and brief them on the points where China has sought to create confusion. “If the Quad is pitching for a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific where coercive actions will not be accepted, it is good for other countries as well which are facing Chinese coercive agenda,” say diplomats. “This will be explained to them,” they add.

The Quad Foreign Ministers said that all the information that the members receive are shared on the multilateral forums which include other countries that are not part of the grouping. “This is also a message for China and other nations whom it was addressing that other non-Quad countries are also on those multilateral forums that are taken into confidence,” sources explain.

Going tough on Beijing, EAM Jaishankar in Melbourne pointed out on Saturday that the current situation at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has risen due to the disregard of written agreements by China. He was indicating that on the one hand China is not abiding by the agreements, and on the other it is levelling baseless allegations against a forum which is working on a constructive agenda. It is China which is illegitimately expanding its presence in India’s neighbouring countries including Pakistan and Afghanistan, not the Quad members.

“Yes, we (Quad) had a discussion on India-China relations because it was part of how we briefed each other about what was happening in our neighbourhood. And it’s an issue in which a lot of countries legitimately take interest, particularly if they are from the Indo-Pacific region,” Jaishankar said. He added, “When a large country disregards written commitments, I think it’s an issue of legitimate concern for the entire international community.”

Speaking at a joint India-Australia press conference in Melbourne along with his Australian counterpart Marise Payne, EAM Jaishankar said that the four Foreign Ministers of the Quad countries made a point that “we’re here to do positive things, to contribute to peace, prosperity, stability of the region”. On China’s Foreign Minister criticising the Quad, Jaishankar said that our actions and stance are very clear, and criticising it repeatedly “doesn’t make us less credible”.

Sources say that what EAM said was in fact a reflection of what transpired in the Quad meeting where Jaishankar and Blinken took a strong note of China, calling Quad a means to counter attempts by a particular country to establish its own hegemony over the Indo-Pacific

In what is being seen as a terse message to China, Jaishankar further assertively said that the Quad would continue to work towards rule-based international order, freedom of navigation in international waters, promoting connectivity, growth and security for all while respecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states.

The four Foreign Ministers’ joint statement also counters China’s agenda to show Quad in a bad light. It explains how extensively the Quad members extended Covid related assistance to the countries in need, with more 500 million vaccine doses having been provided so far. They have pledged to donate more than 1.3 billion vaccine doses globally. “Quad Vaccine Partnership’s rapid progress in expanding vaccine production is also satisfactory,” says the statement. “This is all part of the forum’s efforts to ensure that in a setback to China’s agenda, all other countries of the world see Quad as a force for global good,” said a senior diplomat.