At the beginning of a meeting with regional partners, Joe Biden said that Beijing has slammed the US-led attempt to contain China because of the turmoil caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Biden and the leaders of a loose alliance known as Quad India, Japan and Australia reaffirmed their commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific during talks in Tokyo on Tuesday. The comments came one day after the US president said Washington would be ready to intervene militarily to defend Taiwan, prompting China to accuse him of playing with fire. Biden later appeared to try to play down his remarks, saying the US policy of strategic ambiguity on Taiwan remained unchanged, according to media reports.
The meeting was expected to be overshadowed by differences with India's prime minister Narendra Modi over how to respond to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Biden said at the beginning of the meeting with Modi, Japan's prime minister Fumio Kishida and Australia's new prime minister Anthony Albanese, that this is about democracy and autocracies.
Biden said that the leaders were navigating through a dark hour due to Russia's war on Ukraine, despite the fact that Modi was nearby. He said that it was more than just a European issue, it is a global issue that Modi did not address in his public remarks as the summit got under way.
Biden said the US strategy was for a free, open, secure, and resilient Indo-Pacific. Russia's assault on Ukraine only heightens the importance of those goals, which are the fundamental principles of international order. Kishida noted Russian aggression in Ukraine: We can't let the same happen in the Indo-Pacific region. The four leaders were eager to present a united front, but there are divisions behind the scenes.
While Japan and Australia have joined the US in condemning the Russian invasion and imposing sanctions, India has refused to buy most of its military hardware from Russia.
The divisions over Russia highlight the limits that political reality places on the Quad, and the focus is on practical cooperation in areas such as coronavirus vaccines, infrastructure, climate change, space, cybersecurity, and critical and emerging technologies.
Japanese media speculated that the leaders statement, which would be released as soon as the meeting ended, would refer to the importance of honouring a rules-based maritime order in the region, a reference to increased Chinese air and naval activity near Taiwan and islands in the East China Sea administered by Japan, but claimed by Beijing.
China will be closely following Tuesday's summit, only the second in-person meeting since the Quad's first formal summit last year.
China has described the Quad as an attempt to form an Asian version of Nato, although the four members have not agreed on a mutual defence pact.
Quad members say the group is meant to deepen economic, diplomatic and military ties among the four countries. Biden said that the grouping was of growing importance and called it a central partnership. In a short time, we have shown that the Quad isn't just a passing fad. He said we mean business.