Leaders of the Quad grouping of countries – the United States, India, Australia and Japan – agreed on Thursday that what is happening to Ukraine should not be allowed to happen in the Indo-Pacific, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said.
A virtual meeting of the four-country grouping was held at a time of increased concern about Taiwan, a self-ruled island claimed by China that has stepped up its alert level since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, wary of Beijing taking advantage of a distracted West to move against it.
“We’ve agreed that unilateral changes to the status quo with force like this should not be allowed in the Indo-Pacific region,” Kishida said, referring to Russia’s invasion.
“We’ve also agreed this development makes it even more important to work toward realizing a free and open Indo-Pacific” Kishida told reporters after the meeting with U.S President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
A joint Quad statement said the leaders met to “reaffirm their commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, in which the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states is respected and countries are free from military, economic, and political coercion.”
The leaders, whose call followed a meeting of their foreign ministers in Australia last month, also “reaffirmed their dedication to the Quad as a mechanism to promote regional stability and prosperity.”
The statement, which added that the leaders agreed to meet in person in Tokyo “in the coming months,” made no specific mention of Taiwan, but said the leaders discussed the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.
“They agreed to stand up a new humanitarian assistance and disaster relief mechanism which will enable the Quad to meet future humanitarian challenges in the Indo-Pacific and provide a channel for communication as they each address and respond to the crisis in Ukraine,” it said.
Biden tweeted that the meeting with the Quad leaders covered “our commitment to sovereignty and territorial integrity around the world, including in the Indo-Pacific.”
Taiwan’s representative office in Washington said it welcomed the Quad’s commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. “Taiwan will continue to work with all peace-loving partners in the region for prosperity and stability,” it said.
Modi “underlined that the Quad must remain focused on its core objective of promoting peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region,” his office said.
It said developments in Ukraine were discussed, including its humanitarian implications, and Modi “emphasised the need to return to a path of dialogue and diplomacy.”
It said leaders also discussed Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean region and the Pacific Islands, and Modi “reiterated the importance of adhering to the UN Charter, international law and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Washington sees the Quad and its growing relations with India as essential to its efforts to push back against China, but it is in a delicate balancing act with New Delhi, given the latter’s long-standing ties with Russia.
Of the Quad countries, only India has not condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia is the main supplier of arms to the Indian military and India faces the possibility of U.S. sanctions for its purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defence system.
Analysts say any moves by U.S Russia hawks to impose sanctions on India for working with Moscow could set back Quad cooperation.
Donald Lu, U.S assistant secretary of state for South Asia, told a Senate subcommittee hearing on Wednesday Washington had been fighting a “pitched battle” with India in diplomatic channels to urge it to take a clear position opposed to Russian actions in Ukraine.
He also said it was looking “very closely” at whether to the apply sanctions on India over its Russian arms deals under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), or to waive those.
Kurt Campbell, the White House coordinator for Indo-Pacific, said on Monday Washington remained “bullish” about its relationship with India.
“We understand … India’s historic, long-standing relationship with Russia, but at the same time, ultimately, we believe that India will be moving in our direction,” he said.
Campbell said Washington would keep its focus on the Indo-Pacific despite the Ukraine crisis, although this would be difficult and expensive. He said Washington has been deeply engaged in two theaters simultaneously before, including during World War Two and the Cold War.
Ryan Hass, a former China director on the U.S National Security Council now at the Brookings Institution, said the Quad call, as well as a visit by a delegation of former U.S defence officials to Taiwan this week, showed Biden wanted to ensure China did not get the idea that Russia’s invasion had distracted Washington from its focus on the Indo-Pacific.
“The reference in the joint statement to ensuring others are free from ‘military, economic, and political coercion’ seems designed to signal that Quad leaders will work to deter more than just a military invasion of Taiwan, but also efforts below the threshold of conflict to unilaterally change the status quo,” he said.