WASHINGTON, Sept.24 (Reuters) – Leaders of the United States, Japan, India and Australia on Friday pledged to pursue a free and open Indo-Pacific region “without being intimidated by coercion” at their first in-person summit, which presented a united front amid shared concerns about China.
The two-hour White House meeting of the Quad, as the grouping of four major democracies is called, will be closely watched in Beijing, which has criticized the group as “doomed to failure.”
“We defend the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight, the peaceful settlement of disputes, democratic values ââand the territorial integrity of states,” said US President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Indian Prime Minister. Narendra Modi said in a joint statement after the talks.
Although China was not mentioned in the four leaders’ public remarks or in the lengthy joint statement and fact sheet released afterwards, Beijing was clearly a priority.
Their statement frequently mentioned the leadership’s insistence on rules-based behavior in a region where China has tried to flex its muscles.
“Together, we recommit ourselves to promoting a free, open and rules-based order, rooted in international law and fearless through coercion, to enhance security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.” , they said.
Quad leaders also expressed support for small island states, especially those in the Pacific, to improve their economic and environmental resilience.
In addition, they urged North Korea to engage in diplomacy over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, which Pyongyang refused to do unless international sanctions were lifted.
The leaders took steps to expand vaccines around the world, welcoming India’s plans to resume exports in October.
After the meeting, Suga told reporters that the countries agreed to cooperate on vaccines, clean energy and space, and to hold a summit meeting every year.
Modi told his fellow Quad leaders that India would allow the export of 8 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of October as part of a deal the group reached in March to provide a billion doses to the Indo-Pacific, said India’s foreign minister.
The plan to deliver a billion doses across Asia by the end of 2022 stalled after India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, banned exports in April amid a massive outbreak of COVID at home.
India has said it will prioritize the international COVAX vaccine initiative and neighboring countries when restarting vaccine exports.
The Quad announced several new pacts, including one to strengthen supply chain security for semiconductors and to combat illegal fishing and strengthen maritime domain knowledge.
It has also set up a 5G partnership and plans to track climate change.
“Recognizing the role of governments in promoting an enabling environment for 5G diversification, we will work together to facilitate public-private cooperation and demonstrate in 2022 the scalability and cybersecurity of open and standards-based technology Â», Declared the leaders.
The meeting came just over a week after the United States, Britain and Australia announced an AUKUS security pact that will provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines, a decision strongly denounced by Beijing.
A Japanese government spokesperson said Suga told the meeting that Japan viewed the AUKUS partnership as “playing an important role in the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific region.”
U.S. officials had sought to downplay the security aspect of the Quad ahead of the meeting, even though the members conduct naval exercises together and share concerns about China’s growing power and attempts to exert pressure on the four countries.
Morrison said that AUKUS and the Quad are “mutually reinforcing”.
He told reporters: “That’s the whole point of the Quad and the UKUS. They are not here to replace anything but to add to it.”
During a briefing on Friday, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry appeared to criticize the Quad, or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, as it is officially called.
“A closed and exclusive clique targeting other countries goes against the zeitgeist and the aspirations of countries in the region,” said spokesman Zhao Lijian.
“He will not find any support and is doomed to fail.”
China has denounced the Quad as a Cold War construct and said the AUKUS alliance will intensify a regional arms race.
Reporting by Michael Martina, David Brunnstrom, Steve Holland, Nandita Bose and Simon Lewis in Washington and Yoshifumi Takemoto and Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Clarence Fernandez
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