The summit of this informal grouping called “Quad” comes as Beijing strengthens its military capabilities and multiplies exercises and maneuvers near disputed territories, including Taiwan.
“China is flirting with danger,” warned US President Joe Biden on Monday, repeating that the United States was ready to use its military means if it invaded the autonomous island.
Even if the Biden administration immediately tried to tone down these remarks, Beijing reacted strongly by invoking its “sovereignty” and judging that the United States was playing “with fire”.
This Quad summit is about “democracies versus autocracies, and we have to make sure we live up to it,” Biden said Tuesday morning.
Japan has also recently toughened its language on its neighbor, warning China against any “unilateral change of the status quo by force”.
Countries in the region are also concerned about Beijing’s efforts to forge alliances with Pacific nations. After a security agreement concluded last month with the Solomon Islands, China could, according to some media, want to extend it to others: Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga and Kiribati.
– Disagreements with India –
According to a US official, the four countries are expected to agree Tuesday on a common system to track regional maritime traffic, including “in territorial waters and exclusive economic zones”.
The data collected will be shared with “a wide range of partners” to help monitor activities like illegal fishing, he told reporters.
In the space of a few hours, Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the new Australian leader Anthony Albanese will try to transform their informal alliance into a united bloc capable of facing China.
This unit is however complicated by disagreements with India, the only member of the Quad not to have condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, even increasing its imports of Russian oil despite criticism.
On the contrary, Mr. Biden and his allies draw a parallel between the war led by Moscow and the territorial ambitions of Beijing, arguing that the sanctions against Russia also serve as a deterrent to other countries tempted by military actions.
Mr. Biden, who will also have bilateral talks with MM. Modi and Albanese, “is well aware that India has its own history, its own way of seeing things”, noted the American official.
The question is how those differences are managed, he added, saying that Mr Biden “is of the opinion that we need to have frank and direct discussions”.
– “Not here to joke” –
“The Quad gives the impression of being focused on ways to thwart China. But India will no doubt adopt a neutral position,” Kazuhiro Maeshima, professor of American politics at Sophia University, told AFP. in Tokyo.
The Quad’s previous joint statements had been limited to advocating a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and warning against “unilateral” actions, without citing Beijing.
The American president underlined at the opening of the summit the growing importance of the Quad, considering that “in a short time, we have shown that it is not just a passing fad. We are not here to joke”, did he declare.
The Quad is also a diplomatic baptism of fire for Australia’s new Labor Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, 59, who arrived in Tokyo just hours after his inauguration.
Mr. Biden’s Asian tour, which had started with a three-day stay in South Korea, is also dominated by the possibility that the unpredictable North Korea will fire a new missile or carry out a nuclear test.
This fear has not materialized so far, but Washington has said it is “prepared” for this eventuality, as talks have stalled since the failure of a summit in 2019 between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and then US President Donald Trump.