NEW DELHI: India joined members of the Quad and New Zealand, Vietnam and South Korea to collaborate on combating the coronavirus pandemic currently sweeping through the world. Foreign secretary Harsh Shringla joined a telephonic conference call started by US deputy secretary of state Steve Biegun. According to a readout by the MEA, the teleconference included senior representatives from Australia, the Republic of Korea, Vietnam, New Zealand, and Japan.
These seven countries decided they would cooperate on “vaccine development, challenges of stranded citizens, assistance to countries in need and mitigating the impact on the global economy.” The top bureaucrats will henceforth confer weekly, said MEA in a statement.
Meanwhile, foreign minister S Jaishankar and foreign secretary Harsh Shringla addressed Indian ambassadors to countries in Europe, south-east Asia and east Asia on Friday via separate video-conferences on Friday. Sources said, the conversation centred on bringing everyone on the same page on the Covid restrictions, and how to handle them. It was emphasised that communicating to community, assisting stranded students and others and mobilising resources were essential.
The Quad-Plus video-conference was initiated by the US side and meant to start an initiative to share best practices, collaborate and synergise actions against Covid-19. On a larger canvas the effort is also an attempt to keep the Quad Plus countries within a certain sphere of influence and strategic direction. It is therefore significant to have New Zealand as one of the participants, given it is one of the Five Eyes countries; Vietnam is a valued partner of Japan, India and the US. South Korea is an interesting participant as well, not only as a strategic partner, but also a country which has successfully beaten back the coronavirus challenge.
The call brought the Quad back into focus as one of the key groupings in the Indo-Pacific — one of their areas of collaboration was in humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HADR). Taking it a step further, these countries, with significant scientific and technological heft, are planning to pool resources to work on emergency areas like vaccines. There are apparently almost two dozen projects globally that is working on vaccine for coronavirus. The chances of a vaccine discovery as part of a collaborative effort is deemed higher.
“The participants shared their assessments of the current situation with respect to Covid-19, and discussed ways to synergise their efforts to counter its spread.”
Shringla briefed the others on India’s national response as well as regional outreach as a result of PM Modi’s video-conference with Saarc leaders. According to the MEA, “He conveyed India’s desire to regularly share its perspectives with partners in the region and to work together with others to counter this challenge. The participants are expected to continue the conference call on a weekly basis.”
Nepal, Bhutan contribute to Saarc fund to fight Covid-19
Days after PM Narendra Modi announced a Saarc emergency Covid-19 fund, Nepal and Bhutan have contributed to the corpus which is intended to be used by countries in south Asia in their fight against the pandemic. Nepal has pledged $1 million while Bhutan has pledged $100,000 to the fund.