Washington, Sep 23: Foreign ministers of Quad countries -- India, Australia, Japan and the US -- have agreed to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting every year, taking another major step towards further institutionalising the platform focused on keeping the Indo-Pacific free and open from Chinese influence.
The four countries also signed a humanitarian and disaster relief agreement for the region, which was discussed and agreed upon at the Tokyo summit of the Quad.
The Quad, which started out in 2004 as the Australia-India-Japan-US Tsunami Core Group and later turned into the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, has witnessed intense engagement in recent years after it was resurrected in 2017 by the Donald Trump administration from its 2008 collapse.
President Joe Biden took it to the summit level with a virtual meeting in 2021, which was quickly followed by one in-person meeting. Their fourth summit -- and second in-person meet -- took place in Tokyo in May this year.
Though the leaders have had two in-person summits in the two years since their first in 2021, there has been no decision for them to meet every year. But Quad foreign ministers will meet every year now, as they announced at their meeting on Friday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York.
"I think it's a great idea that we meet regularly on the sidelines of UNGA and in our respective countries as well," said External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar in remarks by the four officials ahead of the signing of the humanitarian and disaster relief agreement.
Jaishankar then emphasised the importance of the Friday meeting, saying that it has come at a time the world is passing through "a very difficult period" and mentioned the "global repercussions" of the Ukraine conflict and "climate events and emergencies".
"Given the turbulent times, I think it's particularly important that we go further in the constructive agenda that we have set for ourselves, that we work together on the delivery of public goods, that our efforts and particularly what we are signing today, the HDR (humanitarian and disaster relief) partnership, which we discussed and finalised in Tokyo is I think extremely timely," he concluded.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who called and hosted the meet, said, "We're looking forward to continuing to explore the many ways that the Quad enables us to deepen our cooperation. Our leaders have set out a very significant agenda for us when they met. We are following through on a lot of that work."
Australia's Foreign Minister Penny Wong said, "We do know our region is being reshaped, economically and strategically. And we are here because we want to work with the countries represented before you to better navigate this period of change together. So this is the heart of the Quad to create the region we all aspire for and it's a great honour and privilege to be here with my counterparts today."
Japan's Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said, "Today the world is witnessing direct attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by force. The free and open international order based on the rule of law is under threat."
He did not name China, but the reference barely concealed who he had meant.
"So it's extremely significant for us to demonstrate together to the international community our firm commitment to the principles of the UN charter and free and open Indo-Pacific order," he added.