The Biden administration views Quad — an informal grouping of Australia, India, Japan and the US — as having “essential momentum and important potential”, a senior official has said.
The Quad is aimed at ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific, a region that witnessed increasing Chinese military assertiveness in recent years.
“We view the Quad as having essential momentum and important potential. So we’ll build on it by deepening cooperation on areas of traditional focus,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters on Monday, days after the maiden Quad ministerial meeting under the Biden administration was held last week.
“It’s an example of the United States and some of our closest partners pulling together for the good of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said.
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.
Deepening cooperation on areas of traditional focus areas includes maritime security, while also working closely with Quad partners to confront some of the defining challenges and even opportunities of “our time”, Price said, adding that it includes COVID-19, climate change and democratic resilience.
“Of course, Secretary (of State, Tony) Blinken had the opportunity last week now it was to confer for the first time with his quad counterparts. I suspect you will be seeing Secretary Blinken continue to do that in the weeks and months ahead, given the central role of the Quad going forward,” he said.
Responding to a comment made by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Price said it is reflecting of a continued pattern of Beijing’s tendency to avert blame for its predatory economic practices, lack of transparency, failure to honour international agreements and its repression of universal human rights.
In his annual speech at the Lanting Forum, focussing on China-US ties, on Monday, Wang urged the US to stop “smearing” the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) and its one-party political system, lift sanctions on trade and halt Washington’s backing of “separatist forces” in Taiwan, Tibet, Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
“We will continue to stand up for our democratic values when human rights are being violated in Xinjiang, Tibet or elsewhere in China or when autonomy is being trampled in Hong Kong,” Price said.
The Biden administration, he said, will approach China through the prism of competition from a position of strength and it will work closely with allies and partners across the board.
“That’s precisely what we’re doing with the Quad. It’s precisely what we’re doing with our allies and partners in Europe. It’s precisely what we’re doing with our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific to approach China from a position of strength,” Price asserted.
During the third Quad ministerial and the first under Biden administration held virtually on February 18, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Japan’s Toshimitsu Motegi reiterated their common vision for a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific.
They highlighted their shared attributes as political democracies, market economies and pluralistic societies.
“They recognised that the changes underway in the world makes a strong case for their countries working closely together. It was important for the international community that the direction of changes remains positive and beneficial to all,” Ministry of External Affairs had said in a readout of the Quad ministerial.
During the meeting, the ministers emphasised their commitment to upholding a rules-based international order, underpinned by respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, rule of law, transparency, freedom of navigation in the international seas and peaceful resolution of disputes.
“Their productive exchange of views on regional issues included a reiteration of their common vision for a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region, with clear support for ASEAN cohesion and centrality. It was noted that the Indo-Pacific concept had gathered growing international support, including in Europe,” the readout said.
China is engaged in hotly contested territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas. Beijing has also made substantial progress in militarising its man-made islands in the past few years.
Beijing claims sovereignty over all of the South China Sea. But Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan have counterclaims. In the East China Sea, China has territorial disputes with Japan.
The South China Sea and the East China Sea are stated to be rich in minerals, oil and other natural resources.
They are also vital to global trade. Although the US lays no claims to the disputed waters, it has challenged China’s growing territorial claims in the South China Sea by deploying warships and fighter jets to assert freedom of navigation and overflight patrols in the strategically-vital region.