The first 'Quad' meeting was held in 2019 on the sidelines of the UNGA in New York
The first 'Quad' meeting was held in 2019 on the sidelines of the UNGA in New York
Photo Credit: Twitter/@DrSJaishankar

New Delhi: In the midst of rising global concerns over China's military expansionism, foreign ministers of India and three other member nations of the Quad coalition on Thursday vowed to uphold a rules-based international order underpinned by respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, freedom of navigation and peaceful resolution of disputes.

A statement from the Japanese foreign ministry said the ministers, during a telephonic meeting, concurred to "strongly oppose unilateral and forceful attempts" to change the status quo in the context of the East and South China Sea.

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 with clear support for ASEAN cohesion and centrality, the Ministry of External Affairs said.

Spokesperson in the US State Department Ned Price said the ministers also discussed the "urgent need" to restore the democratically elected government in Myanmar, and the priority of strengthening democratic resilience in the broader region.

He said the ministers reiterated their commitment to the Quad meeting at least annually at the ministerial level and on a regular basis at senior and working levels to strengthen cooperation on advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific region, including support for freedom of navigation and territorial integrity.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said the ministers deliberated on a host of issues, including the recent developments in Myanmar, coronavirus pandemic, climate change and furthering cooperation in areas such as maritime security, supply chain resilience and counter-terrorism.

During the discussion on recent developments in Myanmar, the upholding of rule of law and the democratic transition was reiterated by India, the ministry said. "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," the MEA said.

The Japanese foreign ministry said the ministers shared the recognition that the existing international order has been under challenge in various fields, including through "unilateral attempts", to change the status quo and that the four countries are deeply committed to reinforcing a free and open global order based on the rule of law.

"Foreign Minister Motegi expressed serious concern with regard to the China's Coast Guard Law, and the four Ministers concurred to strongly oppose unilateral and forceful attempts to change the status quo in the context of the East and South China Sea," the Japanese statement said.

The meeting 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. "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 a clear support for ASEAN cohesion and centrality," the MEA said.

The 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a key stakeholder in the Indo-Pacific region. It was the third ministerial meeting of Quad member countries and the first after the Joe Biden administration took charge in Washington. "It was noted that the Indo-Pacific concept had gathered growing international support, including in Europe," the MEA said on the 'India-Australia-Japan-USA Quad Ministerial Meeting'.

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.

The MEA said the ministers highlighted their shared attributes as political democracies, market economies and pluralistic societies and 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," the MEA noted.

The US State Department spokesperson also said the ministers discussed countering disinformation, counterterrorism and maritime security. The Japanese statement said Foreign Minister Motegi expressed "grave concern" for deteriorating the situation in Myanmar, and explained that Japan was strongly urging the Myanmar military to immediately stop violence, including shootings, against citizens.

He also pitched for the release of those who have been detained, including State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and swiftly restore Myanmar's democratic political system. "The four ministers shared the view on the need to recover the democratic regime early," it said. The ministers also discussed ongoing efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, including vaccination programmes.

"They expressed their commitment to cooperate in addressing this challenge, enhancing access to affordable vaccines, medicines and medical equipment. India's efforts at providing vaccines to 74 countries was recognised and appreciated," the MEA said. In the discussion pertaining to the recent developments in Myanmar, the upholding of rule of law and the democratic transition was reiterated by India, it added.

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