The Quad group on Friday expressed serious concerns over the militarisation of the Asia-Pacific region at a meeting in New Delhi.
The annual Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, commonly known as the Quad, is a loose strategic alliance between US, Australia, Japan and India, aimed at ensuring “free and open maritime navigation” in the Asia-Pacific, where China is developing military and civilian infrastructure.
The group is widely seen as a bulwark against China's growing influence in the region.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and his Indian and Australian counterparts, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Penny Wong, met on the heels of a tense G20 foreign ministers summit that was overshadowed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In a joint statement, which did not name China, the Quad nations said peace and security in the Indo-Pacific were imperative for the development of and prosperity in the region, while reiterating the importance of respect for sovereignty and international law.
“We strongly oppose any unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo or increase tensions in the area,” they said in a joint statement after a closed-door meeting.
“We express serious concern at the militarisation of disputed features, the dangerous use of coastguard vessels and maritime militia, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore resource exploitation activities.”
China claims that the Quad is an Asian version of Nato and has rejected allegations by the US of hindering navigation in the South and East China seas, a key global maritime trade route where Beijing claims sovereignty.
Foreign ministers of the group, which was formed in 2007, also took part in a panel discussion called “The Quad Squad: Power and Purpose of the Polygon”, as part of the ongoing Raisina Dialogue, an annual diplomatic and strategic gathering hosted by New Delhi.
“The Quad is a force, I believe, for good, positive, affirmative action,” Mr Blinken said.
Mr Hayashi said the Quad was a forum for co-operation and urged China to abide by international rules to avoid any conflicts.
Japan is currently engaged in a tense maritime dispute with China in the East China Sea.
“This not a military but this is just practical co-operation, and we don’t try to exclude anybody,” Mr Hayashi said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, who was in New Delhi for the G20 summit, met his Indian counterpart on Thursday amid a bitter border dispute between the two Asian nations.
India is considered by the West to be a regional counterbalance to China's growing influence.
“What I would not like to be defined as is standing against something or somebody, because that diminishes me,” Mr Jaishankar said when asked whether Quad was a forum to check China.
The Quad nations regularly hold naval and military manoeuvres in the Asia-Pacific region, with Beijing last week sending fighter jets to intercept a US naval patrol plane over the Taiwan Strait.
Tension has soared between Washington and Beijing in recent weeks following an alleged spy balloon entering the US, which was later downed by US Air Force jets.
China claimed the balloon was a weather-monitoring craft that had been blown into North American skies.
Mr Blinken cancelled a visit to Beijing after the balloon was detected and later accused China of planning to send military aid to support Russia's war in Ukraine.
He drew parallels between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the emerging situation in the Asia-Pacific region, saying any “impunity” to Russia would embolden aggressors everywhere, although he did not name China.
Beijing has backed Moscow diplomatically against the US-led western alliance that is arming Ukraine and imposing punitive economic sanctions on Russia.
On Thursday, the G20 Foreign Ministers summit failed to produce a joint declaration after Moscow and Beijing expressed reservations over wording used to describe Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held a brief meeting with Mr Blinken, hours after he accused the US and West of employing blackmail and threats against Russia.
He said that the West was backing Ukraine as part of its world-domination agenda while Moscow was fighting to defend itself and against any attempts to expand Nato.
“If they say this is existential for them, it is existential for us,” Mr Lavrov said at a separate discussion at the Raisina Dialogue.
He said “some other outside players” were thriving by pitting one country against another in the Asia-Pacific region, a reference to China, India and the Quad grouping.
Russia has strong ties with both Asian neighbours, but in recent years, New Delhi has significantly strengthened its partnership with the US, a rival of both China and Russia.
“This is, unfortunately, what is being thrived by some other outside players in the context of so-called Indo-Pacific strategies, in the context of outposts, in the context of using Quad not for economic purposes but trying to militarise Quad,” Mr Lavrov said when asked about India’s role in Quad.
“Russia would always be in favour of bringing people together, like we do in many other countries.”