NEW DELHI (AP) — The top diplomats of Australia, India, Japan and the United States offered sharp but veiled criticism of China on Friday, even as they maintained their Indo-Pacific-focused bloc is not aimed at countering Beijing.
In comments at a public event and in a written statement, the four foreign ministers used buzzwords and phrases that reflected growing unease over China’s influence in the region and made clear the group aims to be an alternative to China.
Meeting in New Delhi, the four barely mentioned China by name and insisted that the so-called Quad group is designed to boost their own national interests and improve those of others through enhanced cooperation in non-military areas.
Both the public comments and the statement had repeated references to the importance of democracy, rule of law, maritime security and the peaceful settlement of disputes, all of which Beijing regards with suspicion when coming from Quad members.
“We strongly support the principles of freedom, rule of law, sovereignty and territorial integrity, peaceful settlement of disputes without resorting to threat or use of force and freedom of navigation and overflight, and oppose any unilateral attempt to change the status quo, all of which are essential to the peace, stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region and beyond,” the ministers said in the statement.
In a direct shot at China, which has become increasingly aggressive in the Pacific and has alarmed its smaller neighbors by pushing claims to disputed maritime zones, the ministers said they viewed with concern “challenges to the maritime rules-based order, including in the South and East China Seas.”
“We strongly oppose any unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo or increase tensions in the area,” they said. “We express serious concern at the militarization of disputed features, the dangerous use of coast guard vessels and maritime militia, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore resource exploitation activities.”
China has been accused of doing all three. In Beijing, China’s Foreign Ministry criticized the Quad, saying that “cooperation among countries should conform to the trend of the times for peace and development and should not engage in exclusive cliques.”