TOKYO: With an eye on China's increasing belligerence, India, the US, Japan and Australia on Tuesday agreed to step up coordination in creating a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne affirmed strengthening of a free, open and rule-based international order, the Japanese government said in a statement issued after a meeting in Tokyo.
The four major Indo-Pacific democracies, collectively known as the Quad, vowed to work in tandem to ensure peace and stability of the region, Kyodo news agency cited the statement as saying.
The in-person meeting of the foreign ministers of the 'Quad' hosted by Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi took place in the backdrop of China's aggressive military behaviour in the Indo-Pacific, South China Sea and along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh.
Addressing the 2nd Quad ministerial meeting, Prime Minister Suga said a free and open Indo-Pacific is "widely recognised by the international community as a vision of peace and prosperity of this region," and that his government's basic policy is to "further continue advancing our members to this end."
Suga, who assumed the premiership last month, underscored the need to deepen quadrilateral ties, particularly as the novel coronavirus has spread globally.
"The international community is facing multiple and various challenges. This is exactly why right now is the time that we must further deepen our coordination with as many countries as possible that share our vision," he said.
In his opening remarks, Jaishankar said that as vibrant and pluralistic democracies with shared values, the four nations have collectively affirmed the importance of maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific.
"We remain committed to upholding a rule-based international order, underpinned by the rule of law, transparency, freedom of navigation in the international seas, respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty and peaceful resolution of disputes," he said, amidst growing global concern over China's expansionist behaviour.
"Our objective remains advancing the security and the economic interests of all countries having legitimate and vital interests in the region," Jaishankar 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.
Meanwhile, Japan has lodged a protest against China's creation of a digital museum laying out its claims to a group of Japan-controlled islets in the East China Sea, the government's top spokesman said on Monday.
"The Senkaku Islands have been recognised historically and under international law as an inherent part of Japan's territory and we maintain effective control over them," Kyodo news agency quoted Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato as saying at a press conference.
China is "not in a position" to create such a website regarding the islets, Kato said, adding that Japan has demanded through diplomatic channels that it be taken down.
The dispute over ownership of the uninhabited islets, which China calls Diaoyu, has often strained Japan-China relations. China frequently sends coast guard or government ships to nearby waters in a bid to push its claims to them, the report said.