An eleventh-hour, cobbled Quad meeting has allowed leaders to jointly criticise China’s destabilising military action, and commit to funding developments across the region to lessen Beijing’s growing influence.
The third in-person Quad leaders summit – which was to be held in Sydney this week – was forced to move to the sidelines of the G7 in Hiroshoma on late Saturday night, after United States President Joe Biden abandoned his travel plans to Australia.
Mr Biden had to return to Washington after the G7 due to domestic negotiations over the debt ceiling, which if not resolved will render America unable to meet its financial obligations.
Despite commentary this week suggesting that the scrapped Quad would mark the downfall of the alliance, Mr Biden was able to meet with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, where the four leaders committed to the partnership.
In a 36-point joint statement that did not mention China by name, the four leaders took aim at its growing authoritarianism and its ongoing territorial claims in the East and South China Seas.
“(In the East and South China Seas) we express serious concern at the militarisation of disputed features, the dangerous use of coastguard and maritime militia vessels, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore resource exploitation activities. We emphasise that disputes should be resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law, without threat or use of force,” the joint statement read.
The leaders together said their vision was for a “peaceful and prosperous, stable and secure” region that was “respectful of sovereignty” and free from “intimidation and coercion”.
“Conscious that ours must not be an era of war, we remain committed to dialogue and diplomacy,” the leaders said.
In the context of Ukraine, the leaders said the international security environment was under strain, and the international rules-based order under threat.
In a bid to counter China’s rising influence in the region, the leaders committed to build and manage infrastructure across the Asia-Pacific, strengthen undersea cable networks, and develop an Open Radio Access Network with Palau.
Their commitment stands in contrast to China’s multi-billion dollar investment into regional infrastructure.
Mr Albanese said he was pleased to have convened the meeting “to discuss pressing challenges facing the Indo-Pacific region, and deepening the Quad’s co-operation”.
“The Quad Leaders coming together in-person sends a strong message about Quad unity and what the group is able to achieve together. Australia is always better off when we work together with our close friends and partners, and engage openly and constructively,” he said.
“I am proud of what we have delivered through the Quad so far, and I will continue to work closely with my Quad colleagues in support of an open, stable, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region, where sovereignty is respected.”
In a joint media appearance, Mr Biden thanked his fellow Quad counterparts for accommodating the change of plans; but said the mission remained the same.
“That is to advance our vision of a free, open, secure, and prosperous Indo-Pacific, and to demonstrate the capacity of democracies to deliver in a shared reason,” he said.
“I think people are going to look back at this Quad in ten, twenty, thirty years from now and say it changed the dynamic not only of the region, but the world.
“ … I think a great deal of the future of our world is going to be written here in the Indo-Pacific.”
Mr Biden told Mr Albanese he “truly apologises” for pulling out of a planned visit to Australia next week.
“But we have a thing going on at home right now and I’ve got to pay attention to that,” he said.
Mr Albanese told the US president he “certainly” understood the circumstances that led to his visit being canned.
“I was saddened that you were unable to come down next week but I understand the circumstances that you‘re dealing with, and I would have done exactly the same thing,” he said.
“All politics is local, as you and I both understand.”
Mr Biden responded: “All politics may be local, but friendship is permanent.”