‘Quad in the Indo-Pacific’
(check against delivery) Friday, 30 April 2021
Thank you for the kind introduction, Manish. It is a pleasure to be here today to deliver an address as part of The Indian Futures’ ‘Quad and the Indo-Pacific’ virtual conference.
I acknowledge my distinguished fellow panellists – Anil Wadhwa, Amitabh Matoo and David Brewster.
Today I have been asked to focus on the Indo-Pacific, Australia-India relations and the Quad.
This gathering is a timely opportunity for me in the backdrop of what is a challenging period for India.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacted a terrible toll, both in terms of lives lost and livelihoods deeply impacted.
I extend my sympathies to all those who’ve been touched by India’s devastating current wave and pay my respects to those who have passed away in recent weeks. Sadly, this includes some good friends and contacts of the Australian High Commission.
But Australia stands with India at this difficult time. That’s what friends do.
Just as India gave so much to support the COVID-19 response across our region and the world – Australia has moved quickly to provide support to our friends in India, including oxygen concentrators, ventilators and the offer of medical supplies. This is an initial commitment and we stand ready to provide more assistance as required.
It’s this trend - of friends sticking together - which I think is the under-appreciated story of the Indo-Pacific, the Quad and Australia-India relations today.
In recent years we have seen the Indo-Pacific emerge as the world’s most consequential region.
The region is becoming the world’s strategic centre of gravity.
It’s the home of the world’s most dynamic economies and is projected to account for two thirds of the world’s future economic growth.
By 2030, it will be home to a middle class of almost 3.5 billion people.
By any measure we live in a region on the rise – and one that is coming closer together.
Alongside the tragedy and impact of COVID-19, the pandemic has brought countries and people together.
The most obvious are the vaccines being rolled out worldwide – the result of astonishingly fast work by our researchers and scientists, collaborating across borders to address a common challenge.
It is evident in the support given by countries - including Australia and India - to our neighbours and partners all over the world.
I’ve marvelled out how quickly the Indian government deployed medical teams, medicines and equipment across the Indo-Pacific - and further afield across Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America.
But COVID-19’s downsides extend beyond the death, dislocation and despair which accompanied its spread across nations.
It’s accelerated many of the concerning trends we already faced in the Indo-Pacific, and indeed globally.
Great power rivalry – particularly between the US and China – has been on the rise.
In recent years China has more openly challenged established international rules and norms in a way that concerns many other states, including Australia – rules and norms which have served the interests of all countries, whether large or small.
Tensions over sovereignty have been rising, whether on the Line of Actual Control, in the South China Sea or the East China Sea.
Nationalism, disruption and new geo-political realities have seen global supply chains fragment and shift.
The use of grey zone tactics and disinformation has been increasing.
The deployment of new threats like cyber-attacks and foreign interference is growing in frequency and sophistication.
All this means we face significant hurdles at a time when our resources and our attention are spread across multiple domains.
That makes coordination toward common goals more important than ever.
As Prime Minister Morrison said this week, Australia is using all of its agency as a country and a government to pursue peace for a free and open Indo-Pacific. Our overriding objective is ensuring that Australia’s national interests are always advanced.
And one way we do this is through building our partnerships across the Indo-Pacific, including with India.
Through our collaboration and coordination in responding to the shared regional challenges I have outlined, there has been a tectonic shift in the Australia-India relationship.
Australia and India call the Indo-Pacific home and share a responsibility to safeguard the Indian Ocean.
We are also both dialogue partners of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. And we share a commitment to building an open, inclusive and resilient region with ASEAN at its centre.
Our defence relationship has strengthened significantly in recent years and last year we again joined with India, Japan and the US in Exercise MALABAR.
During the pandemic our leaders, Ministers and senior officials, along with counterparts across the region, have been in regular contact as they share insights and information on tackling COVID and other challenges.
And in June 2020 our two Prime Ministers met via a virtual summit where our bilateral relationship was elevated to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.
Agreements covering a range of areas from education and research collaboration, to water and critical minerals, to defence and maritime co-operation, were signed.
At the summit both Prime Ministers committed to working together through the pandemic and beyond to shape the Indo-Pacific.
Prime Minister Modi called this our ‘sacred duty’. Australia couldn’t agree more.
Australia wants to work with India as the natural leader in the Indian Ocean region to help ensure our shared neighbourhood is healthy and peaceful.
It’s in the interests of all Indo-Pacific nations that the region is underpinned by respect for sovereignty and rules and norms that foster stability and prosperity.
This includes rules-based trade, which spurs the economic growth which underpins our living standards.
This also encompasses inclusive regional architecture.
Australia and India will pursue this agenda across the key regional architecture– including the Indian Ocean Rim Association, ASEAN-led forums such as the East Asia Summit and global forums such as G20.
Australia’s pleased to be the lead partner with India on the ‘marine ecology’ pillar of the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative and we’ll work together to protect our fragile marine environment to support the interests of communities around the region.
We also co-operate with a number of countries - through a range of groupings - to shape the direction of the Indo-Pacific.
Australia and India have consolidated separate trilateral consultative mechanisms with Japan, Indonesia and France – through which we are developing coordinated approaches on issues vital to the region, including supply chains, the blue economy and multilateral institutions.
Japan and Indonesia – as vibrant Indo-Pacific democracies – and France, as a key regional player, are vital partners in Australian and Indian efforts to build regional architecture and cooperation in support of our shared Indo-Pacific interests.
The Quad is an important grouping of four likeminded democracies committed to supporting the principles they believe in. It’s an important tool for dialogue - and for us to collectively respond swiftly to the most pressing challenges facing the region.
The Quad’s origins date back to our cooperation in the wake of the December 2004 tsunami which created an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in the Indian Ocean.
And similarly, the Quad’s momentum has picked up over the past year as we confronted the global health issues of COVID-19 and an uptick in other regional challenges.
The Quad’s positive and practical agenda shows our regional partners they have our strong support.
It complements our respective bilateral, regional and multilateral cooperation - including with ASEAN - to promote an open, inclusive and resilient region of sovereign and independent states.
The Quad Leaders’ Summit of 13 March was historic.
It sent a strong message of our commitment to act in support of a region anchored in international law.
The leaders agreed to a landmark vaccines’ partnership, work to combat climate change, and on coordination on technology standards.
These initiatives are good examples of the practical ways that the Quad is delivering for the region.
The vaccines partnership plays to the respective strengths of our four countries to expand safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing and delivery, in close coordination with the WHO, COVAX and the ASEAN Secretariat.
Australia has committed $100 million to the initiative, in addition to our broader, half a billion-dollar program supporting regional vaccine access and health security and $80 million support for the COVAX Advance Market Commitment facility. Australia’s funding will be focused on supporting ‘last mile’ vaccines delivery in Southeast Asia.
The Summit builds on the extensive work by Quad Foreign Ministers who have met three times in the past two years [February 2021 by teleconference; October 2020 in Tokyo; and September 2019 in New York].
Over this time, our four countries have deepened practical co-operation on the core challenges facing the region, ranging from maritime security to quality infrastructure, counter-terrorism, humanitarian and disaster relief, cyber and countering disinformation.
Taking stock, where to from here
COVID-19 has been a testing time for the Indo-Pacific and the world.
Not only has the health and economic crisis brought by the pandemic tested us.
But we have also seen an acceleration of other challenges – including threats to territorial integrity and sovereignty.
Yet in spite of this, we’ve also seen a number of countries step up, working together to build a positive future for the Indo-Pacific and wider world.
COVID-19 has shown in testing times that vibrant and open democracies - like Australia and India - who eschew ‘right is might’ policies can make a positive mark on the Indo-Pacific, and help build an open, inclusive and resilient region.