India, US, Australia
and Japan discuss deepen
bulwark against China

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MELBOURNE (Australia): Quad countries during the fourth Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Australia reaffirmed their commitment to supporting Indo Pacific countries’ efforts to advance a free and open Indo-Pacific – a region which is inclusive and resilient, and in which states strive to protect the interests of their people, free from coercion.
The Quad reiterated that it opposes coercive economic policies and recognizes international law, peace, and security in the maritime domain underpins the development and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific. “Our meeting advanced the Quad’s positive and ambitious agenda. We are focused on working closely with Indo-Pacific partners to address the region’s most important challenges. Working together as the Quad, we are more effective in delivering practical support to the region,” said the Foreign Ministers of Australia, India, and Japan and the Secretary of State of the United States in a joint statement after the Quad Foreign Ministers’ Meeting.

MELBOURNE: Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (C), Australia Foreign Minister Marise Payne (2L) and others before the 4th Quad Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, in Melbourne on Friday. (ANI Photo)

The top diplomats of the United States, Australia, Japan and India opened talks in Melbourne Friday on deepening their Quad alliance, hoping to blunt China’s expanding power across the Asia-Pacific region.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison kicked off the day by highlighting the group’s importance in building cooperation among democracies while making a thinly-veiled allusion to his country’s troubled relationship with Beijing.

“We live in a very fragile, fragmented and contested world,” he told the visiting officials. “We stand up to those who would seek to coerce us,” he said.

Without mentioning China by name, Morrison said it was a “great comfort” that the three fellow Quad members understand “the coercion and the pressure that Australia has been placed under”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that even though Russia’s threat to Ukraine occupies Washington right now, the longer-term issue is China’s rising power.

“To my mind, there’s little doubt that China’s ambition over time is to be the leading military, economic, diplomatic and political power not just in the region but in the world,” he told The Australian newspaper on the eve of the talks.

Tech, health, climate

The Quad was first launched in 2007 but only took root a decade later after China aggressively projected its military power into the South China Sea, and following violent border clashes with India.

MELBOURNE: External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (C), Australia Foreign Minister Marise Payne (L), Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi (2R) and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) during the 4th Quad Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, in Melbourne on Friday. (ANI Photo) 

While the four held joint naval exercises in 2020 in the Bay of Bengal, the meetings in Melbourne are aimed at deepening cooperation across other fields like fighting Covid-19 and coordinating on critical information technology issues, including the global rollout of 5G telecommunications networks.

Blinken said they were seeking to develop an “affirmative vision” on a range of challenges, such as agreeing on technology standards and cooperating on health issues and climate change.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been central to giving the grouping greater meaning beyond its image of trying to “contain” China.

The four countries used the Quad framework to commit to distributing 1.3 billion vaccine doses, with more than 500 million already delivered, according to Payne.

As for Washington, the meeting is a chance to reaffirm its decision to make Asia and the Pacific the centrepiece of foreign and defence policy, even as the White House and Pentagon are currently consumed by the potential for a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

While Ukraine is “front and centre” in Washington right now, Blinken said ahead of his arrival in Australia: “The world is a big place.”

“Our interests are global and you all know very well the focus that we put on the Asia-Pacific and the Indo-Pacific regions,” he said.

US waning over Ukraine issue

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday said Russia is amassing yet more troops on Ukraine’s border, and warned an invasion could come “any time”, including during the Winter Olympics which end on February 20.

“We’re in a window when an invasion could begin at any time, and to be clear that includes during the Olympics,” he said, brushing aside suggestions that Moscow would wait until after the Beijing Games to avoid upstaging its ally China.

“Simply put, we continue to see very troubling signs of Russian escalation,” Blinken said after a meeting of counterparts from the so-called Quad countries — Australia, India, Japan and the United States — in Melbourne.

Blinken insisted that the United States “would strongly prefer to resolve the differences” with Russia “through diplomacy”.

“We’ve made every possible effort to engage Russia,” he said.

“But at the same time, we’ve been very clear in building deterrence and building defence and making it clear to Russia that if it chooses the path of renewed aggression, it will face massive consequences.”

His comments come as President Joe Biden urged Americans in Ukraine to immediately leave the country, another strong public signal that war may be drawing closer.

“American citizens should leave, should leave now,” Biden said in an interview with NBC News. We’re dealing with one of the largest armies in the world. This is a very different situation and things could go crazy quickly. “