Australia, India, Japan and US take thinly veiled swipe at China | China

The leaders of the Quad group – Australia, India, Japan and the United States – delivered a thinly veiled swipe at Beijing’s behaviour on Saturday at a summit in Hiroshima.

The US president, Joe Biden, and his three partners in the group did not mention China by name but the communist superpower was clearly the target of language in a joint statement calling for “peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific maritime domain”.

“We strongly oppose destabilising or unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo by force or coercion,” the statement said, using diplomatic language that appeared to refer to China’s economic tactics to gain leverage over poorer countries and also its military expansion in the Pacific.

“We express 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,” the statement added, clearly referring to Chinese construction of bases on former offshore reefs and the harassment of non-Chinese vessels in disputed waters.

The Quad leaders held their meeting while already gathered in Hiroshima for a Group of 7 summit.

The Australian prime minister, Anthony Albanese, had been scheduled to host Biden, Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi in Sydney next week. However, Biden pulled out, saying he had to return to Washington from Japan on Sunday to negotiate with Republican opponents on the US debt ceiling.

Biden apologised for forcing the change in plans and has invited Albanese to make an official visit to the White House.

In their statement, they stressed the Quad’s support for infrastructure improvements across the vast Asia-Pacific region, while saying, in another apparent dig at China, that they wanted to assist such investments but would “not impose unsustainable debt burdens” on the recipients of assistance.

Among the projects the Quad leaders highlighted was the “urgent need to support quality undersea cable networks in the Indo-Pacific, which are key to global growth and prosperity”. They announced a partnership aiming to draw on their countries’ expertise in the specialist maritime cable sector.

They also said that an existing pilot programme for hi-tech monitoring of illegal fishing would expand. They said they were “deeply concerned” by repression in Myanmar, and they condemned “North Korea’s destabilising ballistic missile launches and pursuit of nuclear weapons in violation of multiple UN security council resolutions”.

Also at the G7, French president Emmanuel Macron and Italian PM Giorgia Meloni sought to turn the page after a French minister accused Rome of mishandling an influx of migrants.

The French interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, said in early May that Meloni’s rightwing government had been unable to solve the migration problems on which she was elected and that she had lied to voters that she could end the migrant crisis. That prompted demands by Rome for an apology.

On Saturday, the two leaders had a 45-minute meeting at the G7. The two looked relaxed and Macron appeared to ask Meloni about the floods that hit the north of her country this week. She is set to leave the summit in Hiroshima a day earlier to lead the response, sources said.

Briefing reporters, a French presidential official said the two leaders had spoken about Ukraine, but also migration and Tunisia. “There was a widespread discussion that showed our convergence of views on important questions, notably Ukraine, but also Tunisia,” the official said.

The two agreed that Tunisia needed financial support to stabilise the situation to contain migrant flows northwards, the official said. In a separate press briefing, Meloni said the meeting with Macron “went well”.

“Italy and France are two leading nations in Europe and are very close on many issues,” she said.

This article was amended on 21 May 2023. Joe Biden has invited Anthony Albanese to make an official visit to the White House, not a “state visit”, which can only be made by heads of state.

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