In a veiled attack on China, the Quad grouping on Friday reaffirmed that respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity underpin the development of the Indo-Pacific region and expressed serious concern on the militarisation of disputed features, the dangerous use of coast guard and maritime militia vessels, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore exploitation activities.
The Quad or the Quadrilateral coalition is a plurilateral framework comprising India, Australia, Japan and the US formed in 2017 to counter China's aggressive behaviour in the strategically important Indo-Pacific region. Foreign ministers of the four-nation bloc -- External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Japanese Foreign Minister Kamikawa Yoko -- met here on the margins of the high-level 78th session of the UN General Assembly for the Quad Foreign Ministers’ meeting and reaffirmed their commitment to uphold the principles of the UN Charter.
“We reaffirm our conviction that international law, respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the maintenance of peace and security in the maritime domain underpin the development and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific," a joint readout of the Quad Foreign Ministers’ meeting said. The ministers emphasised that disputes should be resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law, without threat or use of force. “We emphasise the importance of adherence to international law, particularly as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to address challenges to the global maritime rules-based order, including with respect to maritime claims, and in the South and East China Seas," they said in the joint statement.
The ministers emphasised the importance of maintaining freedom of navigation and overflight consistent with UNCLOS and reiterated their strong opposition to any unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo by force or coercion. "We continue to express serious concern about the militarisation of disputed features, the dangerous use of coast guard and maritime militia vessels, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore exploitation activities,” they said, in an apparent reference to China.
The Quad reiterated its steadfast commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific that is inclusive and resilient. “We strongly support the principles of freedom, the rule of law, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and peaceful settlement of disputes; and oppose unilateral attempts to change the status quo. We seek to maintain and strengthen stability in the Indo-Pacific, where competition is managed responsibly,” they said.
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 the Quad a security architecture to check China's growing assertiveness. 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.
The Quad also voiced support for an open, stable, and prosperous Indo-Pacific underpinned by effective institutions and reaffirmed their unwavering support for ASEAN’s unity and centrality, the ASEAN-led regional architecture - including the East Asia Summit and ASEAN Regional Forum - and practical implementation of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.
“We respect Pacific-led regional organisations, foremost the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), and are committed to supporting Pacific Island countries in line with the objectives of the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent endorsed by PIF leaders. We are also further strengthening our cooperation with partners in the Indian Ocean region, including through the Indian Ocean Rim Association, to address the region’s most pressing and important challenges,” the ministers said.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a regional grouping that aims to promote economic and security cooperation among its ten members: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. The Quad leaders also expressed their deep concern over the war raging in Ukraine and mourned its terrible and tragic humanitarian consequences. They underscored the need for a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace in Ukraine in accordance with international law, consistent with the principles of the UN Charter.
"We are deeply concerned about the global food security situation and support the efforts of the UN in the resumption of the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI). In the context of this war, we concur that the use, or threat of use, of nuclear weapons would be unacceptable. We underscore that the rules-based international order must respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states,” the joint statement said.
The External Affairs minister hit the ground running with the Quad meeting shortly after landing in New York Friday morning to participate in the UNGA session. In a tweet, Blinken said it was "good to join my fellow Quad foreign ministers from Australia, India, and Japan on the sidelines of #UNGA78". The Quad is vital to our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, and "together we reaffirmed our commitment to uphold the purposes and principles of the UN Charter," he tweeted, along with a photograph of the Quad Foreign ministers.