'Free and open' Indo-Pacific essential for all, says Biden at first Quad Leaders’ Summit

Lalit K Jha
·5-min read

Washington, Mar 12 (PTI) In a clear message to China, President Joe Biden told leaders of the Quad coalition on Friday that a 'free and open' Indo-Pacific is essential to their countries and vowed that the US was committed to working with its partners and allies in the region to achieve stability amidst Beijing's coercive actions.

In his opening remarks during the first virtual summit of the Quad leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Biden described Quad as a new mechanism to enhance cooperation and raise mutual ambition as the member states address accelerating climate change.

'A free and open Indo-Pacific is essential to each of our futures, our countries,' Biden told the top leaders of the Quadrilateral alliance involving the US, India, Australia and Japan.

“This is a group particularly important because it is dedicated to the practical solutions and concrete results,' he said at the virtual summit, which is the first conclave of the top leaders of the Quad.

'We know our commitments...Our region is governed by international law, committed to all the universal values and free from coercion but I am optimistic about our prospect,” he said, in an apparent reference to China which is flexing its muscles in the strategically vital region.

Biden noted that their meeting is also the first multilateral summit that he had the opportunity to host as president since assuming office on January 20.

'The Quad is going to be vital in our cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and I look forward to looking closely to working with all of you in the coming years,' Biden told the Quad leaders as he requested Prime Minister Modi to speak.

'It's great to see you,' Biden, who is attending the summit less than two months after he took charge as US President, told Prime Minister Modi.

The other Quad leaders expressed similar excitement and willingness to collaborate in the Indo-Pacific region.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison thanked President Biden for brining in the four nations together and said that ''history teaches us that we are nations engaged together in a partnership of strategic trust of common hope and shared values, much can be achieved.'' Stating that it will be the Indo-Pacific which will now shape the destiny of the world in the 21st century, Scott said that 'as leaders of four great liberal democracies in Indo-Pacific let our partnership be the enabler of peace, stability and prosperity.' Morrison said it was important to do so inclusively with the many nations in the region in order to respect and support their sovereignty, independence and security by upholding the values and supporting international law and to address many challenges from COVID to climate change.

He said that Australia was ready to look into these tasks and do its share of heavy lifting.

Earlier, Morrison dubbed the meet as 'a historic meeting of four leaders from these nations, which are such close friends.' Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga recalled the 2004 Tsunami disaster when Quad first member states came together.

'We received massive support from the US, Australia, and India in our response to the disaster. Joe visited the affected area soon after the disaster, and I think you once again,' he said.

The Quad summit took place as China and India are involved in a military standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh since May last year. After lengthy rounds of talks, the two sides simultaneously withdrew troops from Pangong Lake area last month while talks are on for the withdrawal of soldiers from the rest of the friction points along the LAC.

China is also engaged in hotly contested territorial disputes in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea. In the East China Sea Japan has maritime disputes with China.

Beijing claims almost all of the 1.3 million square mile South China Sea as its sovereign territory. China has been building military bases on artificial islands in the region also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

China has built up and militarised many of the islands and reefs it controls in the region. Both maritime areas in the South and East China seas are stated to be rich in minerals, oil and other natural resources and are also vital to global trade.

Known as the 'Quadrilateral Security Dialogue,” representatives for the four member nations have met periodically since its establishment in 2007.

The Quad member states have been resolving to uphold a rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific amid growing Chinese assertiveness in the region.

The foreign ministers of the Quad countries held a virtual meeting on February 18 during which they vowed to uphold a rules-based international order underpinned by respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, freedom of navigation and peaceful resolution of disputes.

The evolving situation in the Indo-Pacific region in the wake of China's increasing military muscle-flexing has become a major talking point among leading global powers. The US has been favouring making Quad a security architecture to check China's growing assertiveness.

The Quad foreign ministers held their first meeting under the Quadrilateral or Quad framework in New York in September 2019.

In November 2017, India, Japan, the US and Australia gave shape to the long-pending proposal of setting up the Quad to develop a new strategy to keep the critical sea routes in the Indo-Pacific free of any influence. PTI LKJ NC CPS ZH AKJ AKJ