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Quad vows $50 bil. investment in Indo-Pacific to counter China clout

From left, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, U.S. President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pose for photos ahead of talks in Tokyo on May 24, 2022. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The leaders of Japan, the United States, Australia and India on Tuesday expressed opposition to a change of status quo by force in any part of the world, as Russia's war in Ukraine heightens concerns over a similar situation occurring in the Indo-Pacific.

    The Quad group also agreed to invest more than $50 billion in infrastructure assistance and investment in the Indo-Pacific over the next five years, while unveiling a maritime initiative to help countries in the region track illegal fishing and monitor other activities in their waters.

    The in-person Quad summit was the second of its kind and the first hosted by Japan -- a country increasingly challenged by China's territorial claims in the East China Sea and other assertive behavior, North Korea's nuclear and missile threats and a long-running territorial dispute with Russia.

    "There has been great significance in that the four leaders have been able to send a message to the world that we would not tolerate a change of status quo by force in any part of the world," Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told a press conference after chairing the meeting.

    The Quad leaders also shared their concerns over the "tragic situation" in Ukraine, while affirming the need to respect sovereignty and territorial integrity, Kishida said.

    "Quad leaders reiterated our strong resolve to maintain the peace and stability in the region," a joint statement issued after the talks said, noting that the four countries discussed their respective responses to the conflict in Ukraine and assessed its implications for the Indo-Pacific.

    At the outset of the meeting, U.S. President Joe Biden, who is in Japan as part of his first trip to Asia since taking office, said Russia's assault on Ukraine "only heightens the importance" of ensuring a "free and open Indo-Pacific," which the Quad is committed to.

    Kishida, Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi all commended the attendance of Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who flew to Japan to attend the meeting in Tokyo within hours of being sworn in as the new leader.

    Albanese, who returned his Labor Party to power for the first time in nine years, assured his Indo-Pacific counterparts that the new Australian government remains committed to the Quad, a group that is widely seen as a counterweight to China's growing clout in the region.

    The Quad has been promoting what it calls "practical cooperation" in areas such as coronavirus vaccines, infrastructure, climate change and critical technologies.

    Under the new maritime initiative, called the "Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness," the Quad members are committing to offer a faster, wider and more accurate maritime picture of near-real-time activities in regional waters, according to the U.S. government.

    The benefits of such a picture include an improvement in partners' ability to protect their fisheries and respond to climate and humanitarian events. It also allows tracking of "dark shipping," in which vessels' transponder systems are purposefully switched off to render their movements undetectable, often a sign of potential illegal activity, the U.S. government said.

    There is demand from countries in the Pacific and elsewhere to improve their ability to "know what is happening" in their territorial waters and exclusive economic zones, a U.S. official said.

    While the Ukraine situation seemed to be a key topic of discussions, a joint statement avoided any explicit accusations against Russia, in apparent consideration of India's historically close ties with Moscow.

    New Delhi has stood out among the Quad members by not condemning Moscow over the war in Ukraine and also refraining from imposing sanctions.

    China is believed to be closely watching developments in Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the response to the war from the United States and its allies to build its strategy toward Taiwan -- a self-ruled democratic island that Beijing views as a renegade province to be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary.

    China, meanwhile, has been militarizing outposts in disputed areas of the South China Sea and carrying out repeated incursions into Japanese waters around the Senkaku Islands, a group of East China Sea islets controlled by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing.

    The joint statement seemed to take on a tougher note on Chinese assertiveness than before, with the Quad leaders saying they "strongly oppose any coercive, provocative or unilateral actions" that increase tensions in the East and South China seas.

    They cited "the militarization of disputed features, the dangerous use of coast guard vessels and maritime militia, and efforts to disrupt other countries' offshore resource exploitation activities" among activities that concern them.

    The Quad engagement has moved to the leaders' level under the Biden administration as it seeks to rally U.S. allies and like-minded countries to counter China. The leaders held their first in-person meeting in September in Washington.

    Australia will host the next Quad summit next year.

    The Biden administration has emphasized the Quad as one of the "new configurations" designed to take on the challenges of the 21st century, along with the Indo-Pacific security partnership formed last year between Australia, Britain and the United States, dubbed AUKUS.

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