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Transcript of Special Briefing on First Quadrilateral Leaders Virtual Summit by Foreign Secretary (March 12, 2021)

March 13, 2021

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Namaskar and Good evening. Thank you for joining us for this special briefing by Foreign Secretary Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla on the first Quadrilateral Leaders’ Summit between India, Australia, Japan and the US, which was held earlier this evening. I would like to first warmly welcome Foreign Secretary here. He is joined by Joint Secretary (AMS) Ms. Vani Rao. May I now invite Foreign Secretary for his opening remarks following which he will take your questions. Over to you Sir.

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: Namaste and good evening and thank you for your patience. We have just concluded the first ever Leaders’ level meeting of the Quad countries with Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi joining Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan and President Joe Biden of the United States in a virtual summit. The historic nature of today's event will be obvious to you that the four countries have upgraded the Quad conversation to the apex level is by itself the most significant outcome. It highlights the importance of international cooperation to address global challenges. The summit today was hosted by the United States and it is President Biden's first plurilateral engagement. As you know, since President Biden took office, our Prime Minister has had two conversations with him. Today's summit provided opportunity for a detailed exchange with President Biden and the other Quad leaders.

At the meeting, the four countries emphasised their commitment to the principles that unite us and underpin all our national experiences, our shared belief in democracy, pluralism, and market based economic principles. We are all committed to a free and open, inclusive and rules based, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region. This is a region that is home to all four of our countries, and to many partner countries, including, of course, friends from the ASEAN. As you're aware, the approach for our engagement with the region was enunciated by the Prime Minister in his landmark speech at the Shangri La dialogue in 2018 in Singapore, and the vision of SAGAR or Security and Growth for All in the Region was also enunciated by the Prime Minister.

In his remarks at the summit today, Prime Minister Modi emphasised that the Quad is a partnership for global good. Today's summit saw the Quad leaders adopt a positive agenda and vision focusing on contemporary issues such as vaccines, climate change and emerging technologies. Prime Minister said at the summit today that he saw this positive vision as an extension of our ancient philosophy of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’, which as you know, regards the world as one family.

At the summit, the leaders sought to strengthen the moorings for peace, stability and well-being among the people of the Indo-Pacific and in the global community. The discussions also extended to post-pandemic recovery, resilient supply chains and maritime security. And as we have the Q&A, I'll also try and share with you some of the different ideas that might have come up during the course of the discussions. Many of the objectives that were enunciated at the Quad summit are reflected in the concrete takeaways of today's meeting, of which, the Quad vaccine initiative is perhaps the most pressing and valuable.

The four countries have agreed to a plan to pool their financial resources, manufacturing capabilities and capacities and logistical strengths so as to ramp up the manufacture and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines in the Indo-Pacific region. We believe this will speed up the process of post pandemic recovery, and enable families and businesses to put the COVID-19 crises behind them and move towards normalisation. In other words, this is a special initiative, which is designed proactively to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 among countries in the Indo-Pacific. And I think the four countries are really leveraging their respective strengths. But again, more on that as we go to the question and answer session. We welcome this initiative as it recognises our own manufacturing capacities and capabilities. We look forward to whole heartedly and unstintingly participating in this endeavour. This is a vaccine supply chain which is built by trust and being built to convey trust. It is an example of the human-centric international cooperation and globalisation that the Prime Minister has referred to on more than one occasion.

It is also a validation of our reputation as a reliable manufacturer of high quality vaccines and pharmaceutical products during this COVID crisis that has been much in evidence, and I must say that during the discussions, there was a wholesome appreciation by the other Quad leaders on India's role in providing vaccines to 70 countries all over the world, under the ‘Vaccine Maitri’ initiative and it's important for me to emphasise here that what we are creating under the Quad vaccine initiative are additional capacities that are being created and will not, I repeat, will not in any manner, affect our domestic vaccine production and rollout.

In a sense, the Quad initiative builds on the ‘Vaccine Maitri’ experience, as I mentioned, which has been very successful and it is evidence that Make in India and Atmanirbhar Bharat are reliable contributors to global supply chains and augment global availability of critical commodities and products.

At the meeting, the leaders agreed to the creation of three working groups, and these are:

(i) a vaccine expert working group to implement our path breaking commitment to safe and effective vaccine distribution;

(ii) a critical and emerging technology working group to facilitate cooperation on international standards and innovative technologies of the future; and

(iii) a climate working group to strengthen climate actions globally on mitigation, adaptation, resilience, technology, capacity building, and climate finance.

India looks forward to being a part of all of these working groups. I have already spoken on vaccines, frontier technologies and their safe and judicious use for the security and prosperity of all and advancing the effort against climate change in every possible manner are articles of faith for India. We welcome the opportunity to cooperate even more closely with our Quad partners in these areas that have been identified.

This is the first summit of its kind, and it had to be held virtually because of the circumstances. But the four leaders did talk about an in person meeting, there was agreement that there would be a Quad in persons meeting sometime later this year. It could be in the margins of a major summit where all four leaders are present. It could also be in the United States or one of our countries concerned. And of course, the Quad will continue to meet at the Foreign Minister and official levels and we will be participating in all of these meetings.

So what I've done is I've tried to offer you a snapshot of the extent of the discussions and purposefulness of the discussions today among our leaders. The meeting has set a benchmark for the Quad’s future efforts in the interests of the Indo-Pacific community and global society on the whole. There will be some documentation that will be released now, following the summit. This includes the Joint Statement, which is the first time that the Quad is issuing such a statement jointly. There is also a factsheet regarding the three working groups that have been set up. I'm now happy to take any questions.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Thank you sir. Thank you for those remarks. Foreign Secretary will take only a few questions. What I'll do is I'll start with questions that I have received from those who joined us online. There is a question from Pushkar from The New Indian Express, "Who will finance the vaccine initiative? Will India be helming the affairs of the initiative”. And I also have a similar question from Dipanjan from Economic Times, "What are prospects of vaccine supply chain initiative transforming into supply chain initiative in other sectors between Quad members?

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: I think these are very good and valid questions. When we talk about the Quad vaccine initiative, what the leaders have tried to do is to leverage our respective strengths and then collectively work on these strengths towards an initiative that will be there for the betterment of the people of the Indo-Pacific region. Now, what are these strengths that we're leveraging? One is the United States’ technological prowess in manufacturing quality vaccines. US vaccines will be manufactured in India. India's manufacturing capabilities and capacity has been recognised in this regard. I did mention to you that each of the other three Quad leaders made it a point to talk about the success of India's ‘Vaccine Maitri’ programme, our endeavour to supply vaccines all over the world despite our own domestic requirements. I think this has been seen as an important initiative to address the COVID-19 and put behind us this pandemic. Our manufacturing capacity is something that is going to be leveraged to make US vaccines and this additional capacity that we will create in this vaccine initiative that the Quad is undertaking will be financed both by the United States, the Development Finance Corporation of the US, and Japan’s JICA and the JBIC - Japan Bank for International Cooperation. So, you will have financing from the US and Japan and you will have Australia contributing towards last mile and logistical delivery issues. In other words, Australia will also finance countries that are going to receive these vaccines, they will finance cold chains, they will finance training, they will finance the ability of these countries to absorb effectively and use these vaccines for their immunisation programmes. And we are talking really about Southeast Asia, the Pacific Island states, the Indian Ocean countries, and the Indo-Pacific in general. So this is, as I said, a very unique initiative. This is, in today's context, one of the most important initiatives you could think about because keep in mind that Quad will work closely with COVAX, with WHO, with GAVI with CEPI, the G7, with all of the organisation that are involved with vaccine production, distribution and assistance offered on a humanitarian basis to countries all over the world. There will be close coordination with all of these organisations. But what is important is that we are talking about huge investments in creating additional vaccine capacities in India, for export to countries in the Indo-Pacific region for their betterment. And in doing so, of course, the financing would be available in the numbers that we need. We are talking about producing about a billion doses of vaccine by the end of 2022. It's an ambitious target. If you look at the fact that vaccines all over the world are limited to a few 100 million, a billion doses is a fairly very large number but we're talking about really immunising people in an entire region, if not the entire world. And this is something that is both an ambitious and a much needed initiative that the Quad is undertaking. There is also talk among the leaders of looking at future pandemics. This is not going to be the last pandemic. This is something that was discussed, that was recognised and that in case other pandemics come maybe Quad should invest also in creating capacities that will enable us to deal with them because after all, if you invest in developing additional capacities that can produce a billion vaccines, it really means that you are prepared for the next pandemic, that you're looking at other areas which you can help and contribute in. You’re creating health capacities which have never been there before.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Thank you sir. The next question which I'll read out has come from Devirupa from The Wire, "Compared to previous times when China has compared the Quad to an Asia-Pacific NATO, the response from Chinese Foreign Ministry has not used those kinds of robust descriptions and have been more cautious in the run up to the Quad summit. How do you see the official Chinese remarks on the Quad summit?”

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: If you look at what the Quad really stands for, it is looking to create conditions for a free, open, inclusive, prosperous, secure Indo-Pacific region. In other words, it is looking at an area in which we can identify with given our shared values and what are the main principles that guide us, it is a value for democracy, it is respect for the rule of law, it is trying to ensure free navigation of international waters and in the sky, we are looking at peaceful settlement of disputes. And of course, sovereignty and territorial integrity of states which is an important principle anyway. And if you look at some of the agenda that we talked about today, it is a constructive positive agenda, we are looking at climate change, we are looking at vaccine development, we are looking at new and emerging technologies, looking at connectivity. These are all areas which are in the realm of positivity. As far as India is concerned, we have always said that the Quad does not stand against something, it stands for something that means it stands for something which is positive, it stands for doing something which is in the realm of consideration for others. And as I mentioned, Prime Minister talked about global good, he talked about ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’. These are the principles that we stand for, this is a principle that the Prime Minister spoke about within Quad and I think all the leaders shared the Prime Minister's vision of a world that is looking after its people, that humanity is the most important consideration and we as nations that have the capabilities to contribute in that regard should come together as Quad members and do so. So that I think should put to rest any speculation about Quad’s activities directed against any States or others. Quad is an organisation that is working towards a very positive agenda and I think that is also brought out by the outcomes that you see in the summit. Look at the working groups, it's vaccine, technologies, climate change. The agenda is a positive one.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Sir, I have two questions on Myanmar, similar ones. Seema Guha from the Outlook, "Did Myanmar come up in the discussions today? Any specific action suggested for Quad members to act together for restoring democracy?” And a similar question from Gautam Lahari.

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: Well, I want to tell both Seema and Gautam that the Myanmar issue did come up for discussions under the regional issues agenda. Quad leaders felt that given the strong democratic credentials of each of the Quad members, it was important to work towards the restoration of democracy in the country. The Prime Minister highlighted the fact that as a neighbour and friend of Myanmar's, India attaches great value to democracy, peace and stability in that country. He advocated a constructive approach that would take into account the needs and aspirations of the people of Myanmar. So it was, I would say, a discussion that took into account the current situation, took into account the fact that democracy was important for all our countries, and that the restoration of democracy was an important objective, and that it is important for countries to work in a manner that was as constructive as possible in order to attain this objective as we all sought.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Sir, the next question is from Pushkar, from The New Indian Express, "Where discussions regarding expansion of the grouping and including some countries of the region in the grouping.” Similar question from Shankar from India Vs Disinformation.

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: Well, I have to say that there was no discussion on expansion of the grouping, I don't think that was something that was envisaged. But some members did speak about working collaboratively with other countries and other regions. In that context, Europe did come up as a region that was taking a greater interest in the Indo-Pacific. You've seen that Germany has adopted guidelines on the Indo-Pacific, France is already working on the Indo-Pacific, Netherlands is doing something, the UK is considering something. So Europe as a region was seen as a possible potential partner with whom the Quad could work but these are only discussions. I'm not talking about decision, these are discussions, but no, the issue of expansion in the Quad was not discussed.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: I will take a couple of questions from the floor. Please identify yourself and your organisation and wait for the mic to reach you. I see Maha.

Maha, CNN News 18: Sir, I am Maha from CNN News 18. Did India raise the issue of embargo on exports of some critical raw material for manufacturing of vaccines which could probably hamper the production in India as well, even as the Quad is looking at the vaccine initiative?

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: From what I understand, this is a US issue. The US under the defence production Act has prioritised certain exports of materials that would be used in vaccine production. This was not taken up in this meeting because it is a bilateral issue for us, it is not an issue that involves the whole of Quad. We have taken this issue up with the United States officially and through our Ambassador in the US and I think due consideration is given to this very important point that we have raised.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Pranay.

Pranay, ABP News: Foreign Secretary, Pranay Upadhaya, ABP News se, "Mera savaal is cheej ko lekar hai ki haal ke dinon mein hamne dekha ki formal structure jo hai voh Quad ka ban raha hai. Quad pehle Foreign Minister leval par aaya aur ab seedhe summit leval par. To mera savaal is cheej se juda hai ki aisa kya hua achaanak ki isko summit leval par elevate karne ka phaisala liya gaya aur aage isaka formal structure kya hoga? Yah jo teenon group banae hain, inkee meetings kis tareeke se hogee aur kya iss mein security architecture ko lekar bhee koee charcha huee hai?
(Questioned in Hindi; Approx. Translation) Foreign Secretary, Pranay Upadhyay from ABP News, "My question is that in recent times we have seen that the formal structure which is being made of the Quad, the Quad first came at the foreign minister level. And, now my question is connected to that, as to what happened all of a sudden that it was decided to elevate it to Summit level and what will be its formal structure in future? How the three groups which have been formed will hold their meetings and did any discussion took place on the security architecture?

Smita Sharma: Can I add to this?

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: You have a related question?

Smita Sharma: Yeah.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Okay.

Smita Sharma: Smita Sharma. Just to add to Pranay’s question, I mean, how much of a trigger would you say perhaps is the situation post the LAC aggression and what played out between India and China been, you know, in a way that India has been a keen participant of this upgraded Quad in several ways. And did any of the regional security, the specific issues of the situation in Hong Kong or the LAC situation was that discussed also during the talks?

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: Pranay, aapase yah bataana chaahata hoon kee yeh jo nirnay hua hai ki summit level par Quad ki meeting hogee. Yeh achaanak decision nahin liya gaya. Aap agar dekhenge to 2007 mein hamaaree official leval par ek meeting huee thee Quad ki. Uske baad 2017 mein official level meeting hue the. 2019 mein pehlee dafa Foreign Minister level par mulaakaat huee thee Quad ki aur ab aap dekh rahe hain teen Foreign Minister meeting ke baad Quad ki summit bhi ho rahee hai. To jaroor yeh to sahamat hain ki yah Quad ki pahlee summit level meeting hai. Par iska evolution dekhein, toh yeh natural evolution bhee hai. Isamen aage jaakar kaise structures honge aapane poochha tha. Iss mein aapane dekha ki 3 working groups to hue hi hein. Aur bhi kuch suggestons hain, par 3 working groups ke saath hum shuru karenge. Uske baad dekha jaega jaise Quad ke summits, iss saal bhee ek aur summit hogee. In-person summit ki hum baat kar rahein hein. To jab hogi tab dekhenge ki kaise isko badhaya ja sakta hai ya kaise isska review ho sakta hai.
(Answered in Hind; Approx. Translation) Pranay, I want to tell you that the decision regarding the Quad meeting at the summit level was not suddenly taken. There was a meeting at officer level in 2007. After that official level meetings took place in 2017. The meeting of Quad was held for the first time in 2019, at the Foreign Minister’s level. And now you see that after three foreign minister level meetings, the Quad summit is taking place. It is important to agree that this is the first summit level meeting of the Quad. Evolution, if you see, is a natural evolution. Further, you asked, what kind of structures will be there. You have seen that 3 working groups have been formed. There are many more suggestions also. We will start with three working groups. We will see later on. This year, there will be one more summit. We are talking about in-person summit. Then, we will see how it can be increased or reviewed.Regarding your question Smita, I think obviously under regional issues, there was a discussion of a number of issues that were important in the geopolitical context, in the fast changing context of the Indo-Pacific and certain areas and certain issues did come up for discussion. There was a fairly candid exchange of views and I think leaders were on the same page on the importance of having greater sense of consultation, discussions on issues that were of common interest to all of our countries. I can't go into each of these individual issues but needless to say, these issues were important for our region, and all four countries being from the region looked at it from the viewpoint of countries that had a shared perspective on many of these issues.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Parikshit.

Parikshit: Sir, you already outlined that US and Japanese financial institutions will fund India's additional manufacturing capacity for the Indo-Pacific countries. Now, will this also be followed by may be talks between India and United States on faster clearances for certain other vaccines which have been approved in the US such as Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Moderna and was there also a conversation on setting up a supply chain, a resilient supply chain, on rare earth metals? Was there any takeaway on that front as well Sir? So these are my two questions.

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: Well, US companies need to apply to the regulator in India for emergency use authorizations. So far, that hasn't been the case. But it is true that if we start manufacture of US vaccines in India, they will have to be some bridging arrangement whereby, trials and tests and of course, ultimately, authorization has to be given for those vaccines to be certified as being fit for manufacture and export from India. So that process will be discussed by the expert working group on vaccines and the expert group, as you know, from our side will consist of a number of Ministries besides the Ministry of External Affairs, there is the Department of Pharmaceuticals, there is the Department of Biotechnology, there's the Ministry of Health, and all of our partners who are involved in this effort and exercise will be part of that decision making process and will facilitate that process that we're talking about. You've talked about technology, of course, there is a critical and emerging technology working group and there are various aspects of it. What I’m trying to say is that we will have to work out what are the different elements. I mean, there are so many technologies that you could consider, whether it's biotechnology or whether it is artificial intelligence or whether it is new internet protocols. There are many emerging technologies, the group will have to convene, will have to discuss, will have to see what are the elements of it and if, as you say, other items, including strategic minerals, etc., would be part of that discussion.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: We are really out of time. I'll take one more question, the last question. Shrinjoy

Shrinjoy: Sir, did India or any other country bring up the East Ladakh problem during the discussions? And what were the reactions of the other countries? You said there was, people agreed on most issues, just wanted to have understanding of this particular issue, Sir.

Vijay Lakshmi, India TV: Sir, isko thoda hindi mein bhi agar bata dete (Questioned in Hind; App.Translation) Sir, Could you please tell this in Hindi also.

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: Main yah bataana chaahata tha ki pahale jab Smita ka prashn tha to issme maine ye kaha ki kaafi jo issues the, jo mudde the, jo indo-pacific region ke hein, uspe charcha hui thi. Aur usamein kafi jo issues, deshon ke interest pe the, uss pe charcha huee thee. Par jo issues hein specifically uspe mein baat nahin kar paunga kyonki ye confidential discussions hein, par ye indo-pacific region ke jo contemporary issues hein, uss pe jarror baat hui thi. Utna to meine baataya smita aur ye mein phir se reiterate karna chahunga. (Answered in Hind; Approx. Translation) I wanted to mention that when Smita earlier raised this question, I said that there was a discussion on regional issues of importance to the Quad members, which pertain to the contemporary issues of Indo-Pacific region. I cannot specifically tell you which issues were discussed and what the nature of those discussions are, for obvious reasons, because these were confidential discussions. That much I told Smita and I want to reiterate it again.

From Audience: Sir, in English please.

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: Well, I mentioned to Smita that there was a discussion of regional issues of importance to the Quad members, which pertain to the Indo-Pacific region. I cannot specifically tell you which issues were discussed and what the nature of those discussions are, for obvious reasons, because these were confidential discussions, closed discussions between leaders of our countries. But needless to say, the issues that were important to all of us were discussed. I think there was, as you asked in that question, there was a commonality of views on these issues, and the provenance of these and how they have to be addressed. And I think this is something that is a constructive discussion that will continue. And it's an exchange of views and exchange of perceptions, and this is something that was very valuable among Heads of State and governments of the Quad countries.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Thank you sir. We will have to close now. So I would like to thank Foreign Secretary and Joint Secretary (AMS) for joining us and thank you all for being here. This concludes the briefing.

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: Thank you.

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