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Biden, Quad leaders pledge 'free' Indo-Pacific amid 'dark hour' in Russia-Ukraine war

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Biden, Quad leaders pledge 'free' Indo-Pacific amid 'dark hour' in Russia-Ukraine war
U.S. President Joe Biden stands with Quad leaders -- Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (L), Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) -- at a summit Tuesday in Tokyo, Japan. Pool Photo by Yuichi Yamazaki/EPA-EFE

SEOUL, May 24 (UPI) -- U.S. President Joe Biden and his counterparts in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue met in Tokyo on Tuesday and vowed to work together for a "free and open Indo-Pacific" in an alliance designed to contain China's assertiveness in the region.

The informal forum known as the Quad consists of the United States, Australia, Japan and India. It was formed in 2004 but has ramped up activity in recent years, particularly in response to China's territorial claims in the waters of the Indo-Pacific.

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Tuesday's summit was the second in-person meeting of the Quad leaders in less than a year. Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and newly elected Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese issued a joint statement that declared a "steadfast commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific that is inclusive and resilient."

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The leaders highlighted "challenges to the maritime rules-based order, including in the East and South China Seas," in a clear signal to China, which is at the center of numerous disputes in both waters.

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Beijing claims sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea and has been militarizing disputed islands there, alarming neighbors in the region. Tensions have also been rising in the East China Sea, where China claims sovereignty over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands and has been developing gas fields in disputed waters.

"We strongly oppose any coercive, provocative or unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo and increase tensions in the area," the Quad leaders said in their statement Tuesday.

U.S. President Joe Biden is seen on Sunday at Osan Air Base in South Korea at the end of his visit to the Korean Peninsula. Photo by Senior Airman Allison Payne/U.S. Air Force/UPI

The Quad announced a new maritime monitoring initiative that will track weapons trafficking, illegal fishing and China's maritime militia -- fishing vessels that are used to help enforce Beijing's territorial claims.

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At Tuesday's summit, the Quad leaders pointed to the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a further catalyst for bolstering their alliance.

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"We're navigating a dark hour in our shared history," Biden said at a joint news conference.

"Shortly before Russia launched this invasion, my administration published our Indo-Pacific strategy to advance a free, open, connected, secure and resilient Indo-Pacific. Russia's assault on Ukraine only heightens the importance of those goals."

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Kishida, who's worked with Western nations on sanctions against Moscow, said that the Russian invasion in Ukraine "squarely challenges the principles which are enshrined in the United Nations Charter."

"We should never, ever allow a similar incident to happen in the Indo-Pacific," he added.

The Quad also unveiled initiatives to fight climate change, enhance critical supply chains, bolster cybersecurity and improve global health during the summit Tuesday.

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"We've shown the Quad isn't just a passing fad," Biden said. " We mean business. We're here to get things done for the region."

The U.S. president left Tokyo late on Tuesday afternoon after wrapping his first presidential visit to Asia after stops in South Korea and Japan. While China was rarely mentioned directly, the clear goal from the White House was to strengthen economic and security alliances with allies to push back against Beijing's ambitions.

During the trip, Biden discussed ramping up joint military exercises with South Korea and unveiled the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, a 13-country pact that attempts to re-engage on trade in the region after the United States withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership several years ago.

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Biden ruffled some feathers in Beijing by saying that the United States would defend Taiwan militarily if China attempted to invade, a statement he later seemed to downplay.

At the Quad summit Tuesday, Biden said that the United States "must and will be strong, steady, and an enduring partner in the Indo-Pacific."

"We are an Indo-Pacific power," he said.

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