'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 firm 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.

In a joint statement released after the meeting, President Biden, Prime Minister Modi, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Prime Minister of Japan Yoshihide Suga reaffirmed their commitment to quadrilateral cooperation between their countries.

'We bring diverse perspectives and are united in a shared vision for the free and open Indo-Pacific. We strive for a region that is free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion. 'We recall that our joint efforts toward this positive vision arose out of an international tragedy, the tsunami of 2004. Today, the global devastation wrought by COVID-19, the threat of climate change, and security challenges facing the region summon us with renewed purpose,' they said, adding that they pledge to strengthen their cooperation on the 'defining challenges of our time'.

'Together, we commit to promoting a free, open rules-based order, rooted in international law to advance security and prosperity and counter threats to both in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

The four leaders said they support the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic values, and territorial integrity.

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.

The four leaders said that as the Quad looks forward to the future; it seeks to uphold peace and prosperity and strengthen democratic resilience, based on universal values.

In his opening remarks, President 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 said.

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, Morrison 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.

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.

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.

Both maritime areas in the South and East China seas are 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 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