Tokyo – The leaders of the United States, Japan, Australia and India met in Tokyo on Tuesday to try to find common ground in dealing with China’s growing economic and military influence in the Asia Pacific region.
The summit of the informal group called “Quad” comes as Beijing strengthens its military capabilities and increases drills and maneuvers near disputed territory, including Taiwan.
“China is teasing danger,” US President Joe Biden warned on Monday, repeating that the United States was prepared to use its military means if it attacked the autonomous island.
Even if the Biden administration immediately tried to stifle these statements, Beijing reacted strongly by calling for its “sovereignty” and judging that the United States was playing “with fire”.
This Quad summit is about “democracy against autocracy, and we have to make sure we fulfill it,” Biden said Tuesday morning.
Japan has also recently tightened its language on its neighbors, warning China against a “unilateral change of the status quo by force”.
Countries in the region are also concerned about Beijing’s efforts to forge alliances with Pacific nations. After the security deal was concluded last month with the Solomon Islands, China according to some media wanted to expand it to other countries: Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga and Kiribati.
– Disagreements with India –
According to a US official, the four countries are expected to agree on Tuesday on a common system for tracking regional maritime traffic, including “in territorial waters and exclusive economic zones”.
The data collected will be shared with “various partners” to help monitor activities such as illegal fishing, he told reporters.
Within hours, Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and new Australian leader Anthony Albanese will try to turn their informal alliance into a united bloc capable of confronting China.
But the unit is complicated by disagreements with India, the only member of the Quad that has not condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, even increasing imports of Russian oil despite criticism.
In contrast, Biden and his allies draw parallels between the war led by Moscow and Beijing’s territorial ambitions, arguing that sanctions against Russia also serve as a deterrent to other countries seduced by military action.
Mr Biden, who will also have bilateral talks with MM. Modi and Albanese, “are well aware that India has its own history, its own way of looking at things,” US officials noted.
The question is how those differences are managed, he added, saying that Biden “was of the opinion that we need to have an honest and direct discussion”.
– “Not here to joke” –
“The Quad gives the impression of being focused on ways to thwart China. But India will no doubt take a neutral position,” Kazuhiro Maeshima, professor of American politics at Sophia University, told AFP in Tokyo.
Previous Quad joint statements have been limited to advocating a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and warnings against “unilateral” action, without citing Beijing.
The American president underscored at the opening of the summit the growing importance of the Quad, remembering that “in a short time, we have shown that it is not just a fad. We are not here to joke”, he said.
The Quad was also a diplomatic baptism of fire for Australia’s new Labor Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, 59, who arrived in Tokyo just hours after his inauguration.
Biden’s Asia tour, which has begun with a three-day visit to South Korea, is also dominated by the unpredictable possibility that North Korea will fire a new missile or conduct a nuclear test.
These fears have not materialized so far, but Washington says it is “ready” for this eventuality, as talks have stalled since the collapse of a summit in 2019 between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump.
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