Monday October 18, 2021

Veiled dig at rival China: Leaders of Australia, India, Japan, US stress ‘stable’ Pacific

September 25, 2021
Veiled dig at rival China: Leaders of Australia, India, Japan, US stress ‘stable’ Pacific

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden and the leaders of Australia, India and Japan highlighted their Quad group’s role in safeguarding a stable, democratic Indo-Pacific on Friday in a veiled dig at rival China.

The first in-person summit of the Quad marked Biden’s latest effort to cement US leadership in Asia in the face of a rising China. Meeting in the White House’s ceremonial East Room, the four leaders discussed their Covid vaccines drive, regional infrastructure, climate change and securing supply chains for the vital semiconductors used in computer technology.

And while China was not mentioned, the growing US rival loomed over much of the day. "We liberal democracies believe in world order that favours freedom and we believe in a free and open Indo-Pacific because we know that’s what delivers a strong, stable, and prosperous region," Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at the start of the summit.

That phrase "free and open" has become code for expressing the big regional powers’ worry about swelling Chinese economic, diplomatic and military presence -- including threats to vital international sea lanes. "This event demonstrates the strong solidarity between our four nations and our unwavering commitment to the common vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific," Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed their countries’ "shared democratic values." Biden, who often talks about democracies needing to prove their capability in an age of powerful autocracies in Russia and China, told the Quad they were in the frontline. "We’re four major democracies with a long history of cooperation. We know how to get things done and we are up to the challenge," he said. For Washington, the Quad meeting marked another step to reviving a US focus on diplomatic efforts, following its dramatic exit from the 20-year Afghanistan war. "We are doubling down on our efforts," a senior administration official, who asked not to be named, said.

Just ahead of the Quad summit, China made a major play of its own by applying to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership -- a huge regional free trade pact.

China criticised the grouping, saying the formation of exclusive closed cliques runs against the trend of times, and it is doomed to fail. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told the media that the quadrilateral grouping should not target any third country and its interests.

China always believes that any regional cooperation mechanism should not target a third party or harm its interests. Seeking exclusive closed cliques against a third country runs against the trend of the times and aspiration of countries in the region. It will find no support and is doomed to fail, he said. Defending the Chinese claims in the South China Sea, Zhao said: China is a builder of world peace, contributor of global development and upholder of world order.

The growth of China means the growth for peace and stability in the world and China's contribution to peace, stability and development in Asia Pacific is therefore all to see. Relevant countries should do more that is conducive to solidarity and cooperation with the four countries in the region, he added.

China has always been an advocate of world peace, a contributor to global development, a defender of the international order and a provider of public goods. The growth of China's strength means the growth of force for world peace, Zhao said.