NEW DELHI, Sep 14, 2021, HT. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to travel to the US during September 23-25 to participate in the first in-person summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad and to address the United Nations General Assembly, Hindustan Times reported.
Modi, who will be making only his second visit abroad since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, is expected to begin his visit with a bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden in Washington. This will be the first in-person meeting between the two leaders since Biden assumed office earlier this year, though they have interacted at virtual events and spoken on phone several times.
The Prime Minister will join Biden and his Australian and Japanese counterparts, Scott Morrison and Yoshihide Suga, for the Quad Leaders’ Summit in Washington on September 24 – six months after their first virtual summit held on March 12.
The in-person summit will be an opportunity to review progress made since the virtual summit and to discuss regional issues of shared interest, the external affairs ministry said in a statement.
Among the issues that are expected to figure prominently in the Quad Summit are the situation in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover on August 15, and ways to given fresh impetus to the ambitious Quad vaccine partnership, which was announced in March and envisages the distribution of one billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines across the Indo-Pacific.
At their first 2+2 ministerial dialogue on September 11, India and Australia insisted Afghan soil must not become a safe haven for terrorists or be used for attacks on other nations, and called for steps to ensure an inclusive governing structure in Kabul. The US has said it intends to hold the Taliban to its counter-terrorism related commitments, including severing ties with al-Qaeda and other terror groups active in Afghanistan.
The deliberations at the Quad Summit are expected to shape the approach of the four countries on the crucial issue of any recognition of the Taliban setup in Kabul.
The statement from the external affairs ministry said the Quad leaders will “review the Quad vaccine initiative” as part of their ongoing efforts to contain the pandemic.
Under the vaccine partnership, the four countries were to supply US-developed vaccines, such as the Johnson & Johnson shot, that would be manufactured in India with funding from American and Japanese financial institutions. Australia will provide logistics support to deliver the doses to countries across the Indo-Pacific.
The initiative stalled after India was hit by a devastating second wave of Covid-19 infections in March-April and the country restricted vaccine exports. Under a new timeframe, the vaccines are expected to be rolled out next year.
The four leaders will also exchange views on global issues such as critical and emerging technologies, connectivity and infrastructure, cyber security, maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, climate change, and education, the statement said.
At the maiden virtual summit, the four leaders had agreed to work towards setting global standards for critical technologies such as 5G and artificial intelligence, and to take further steps to ensure the Indo-Pacific remains a free, open and inclusive region with trade activities conducted under the framework of international rules. These steps were perceived as efforts to counter China’s aggressive and assertive actions across the region.
The statement also said the upcoming summit will “provide a valuable opportunity for dialogue and interactions among the [Quad] leaders, anchored in their shared vision of ensuring a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region”.
Modi is scheduled to address the general debate of the high-level segment of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly in New York on September 25. The theme for this year’s debate is “Building resilience through hope to recover from Covid-19, rebuild sustainably, respond to the needs of the planet, respect the rights of people, and revitalise the United Nations”.
There had been some uncertainty regarding the holding of the Quad Summit following Suga’s recent decision to step down and not seek re-election as leader of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democrat Party (LDP) in the face of mounting criticism of his handling of the Covid-19 crisis. Suga took over just under a year ago after Shinzo Abe resigned citing ill health.
The Japanese side had proposed holding the Quad Summit in a hybrid format, with Suga joining virtually. There were also suggestions for holding the summit after the election of a new Japanese prime minister at the end of this month, but the four countries ultimately decided to go ahead with the summit.