New Delhi: The leaders of the four so-called Quad countries, including India, on Saturday jointly expressed “deep concern” over the Ukraine war and implicitly criticised China’s actions in the Indo-Pacific region.
The Quad summit was earlier scheduled for later in Australia. But after US President Joe Biden cut short his foreign tour to engage in domestic debt ceiling talks, the four countries decided to meet on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Hiroshima.
In a joint statement issued after the meeting chaired by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, the leaders of India, the United States, Japan and Australia said that they wanted to express “our deep concern over the war raging in Ukraine and mourn its terrible and tragic humanitarian consequences”.
“We recognise its serious impacts on the global economic system including on food, fuel and energy security and critical supply chains,” it added.
While India has individually expressed “very deep” concern about the Ukraine war, it is the first time that it is part of a joint statement with the Quad. The significance is also due to India’s co-signatories, the US, Australia and Japan, all of whom are leading the Western camp against Russia on the Ukraine conflict.
The statement, however, did not condemn or criticise Russia for its invasion of Ukraine – a stand the other three countries have regularly taken but which India has so far refrained from.
With strong ties with Russia in defence and energy, India had earlier resisted any strong language in Quad joint statements. Last year’s outcome document issued after the first in-person summit at Tokyo had carefully curated, but relatively muted, language on Ukraine, even though it was held just three months after the Russian invasion.
While India this time endorsed the stronger ‘anti-war’ language, the Indian prime minister’s line to Russian President Vladimir Putin last year found a place this time: “Conscious that ours must not be an era of war, we remain committed to dialogue and diplomacy,” the Quad statement said.
Asserting that the four countries stood for adherence to international law, respect for territorial integrity and UN principles, the joint statement said that they supported “a comprehensive, just and lasting peace consistent with the UN Charter”.
“In this context, we concur that the use, or threat of use, of nuclear weapons is serious and inadmissible,” said the joint statement.
Among the four leaders, Japanese PM Fumio Kishida was the most strident, mentioning Russia by name in his remarks at the start of the meeting.
“During this one-year period, Russia’s outrage has continued, and the security environment has become even more severe. Free and open international order based on the rule of law is under threat,” he said.
Implicit reference to China
While not mentioning China by name, the joint statement was clearly taking a swipe at Beijing when it said that the four leaders would “strongly oppose destabilising or unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo by force or coercion”.
It also expressed “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”.
Calling for peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, the Quad asserted, “We seek a region where no country dominates and no country is dominated – one where all countries are free from coercion, and can exercise their agency to determine their futures. Our four countries are united by this shared vision”.
The joint statement, as well as the accompanying vision statement, unveiled several measures for improving infrastructure and connectivity in the region.
“We’re now launching new initiatives to keep that progress going, from projects to build secure telecommunications in the Pacific region, to strengthen our cooperation in submarine cables, new joint efforts between our private sectors to invest in infrastructure and clean energy projects in the region,” US President Joe Biden said in his opening remarks.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the Quad was moving forward with a “constructive agenda based on shared democratic values”.
“Through our shared efforts, we are giving a practical dimension to our vision for a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific. Climate action, disaster management, strategic technologies, reliable supply chains, health security, maritime security, counterterrorism are examples of areas in which our positive cooperation is increasing,” he said.
Modi also announced that India will host the Quad Summit in 2024. It is not, however, clear if the dates have been decided since India will be in election mode one year from now.
Earlier in the day, Modi had a series of bilateral meetings with leaders from France, South Korea, Vietnam and Ukraine. He also unveiled a bust of Mahatma Gandhi and took part in outreach sessions of the G7 Summit.