Leaders of Australia, India, Japan and the United States gathered Tuesday in Tokyo with pledges to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region, combat climate change, and cooperate on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Speaking at the start of the summit of the informal alliance known as the Quad, U.S. President Joe Biden said Russia’s invasion in Ukraine “is more than just a European issue, it’s a global issue.”
He added that the principles of “territorial integrity and sovereignty, international law, human rights, must always be defended no matter where they are violated in the world.”
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also cited the conflict in his opening remarks, saying, “We cannot let the same thing happen in the Indo-Pacific region.”
While the other members of the Quad had condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and imposed sanctions, India has not done so, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not mention the conflict in his opening remarks. Newly elected Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese highlighted the need to address climate change, saying his government would take “ambitious action.”
“We will act in recognition that climate change is the main economic and security challenge of the island countries in the Pacific,” Albanese said. The summit is the leaders’ second in-person meeting in less than a year. Biden is in Japan as part of his first trip to Asia as president, after traveling to South Korea. On Monday, Biden launched a new Asia-Pacific trade initiative, with 13 countries signing up, including India, Japan and South Korea. The Biden administration says the launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework is meant to demonstrate U.S. economic engagement in Asia, including greater cooperation on issues such as the supply chain, clean energy and worker protections.
Intervention in Taiwan
Biden said Monday the United States would be willing to intervene to defend Taiwan if China were to invade, the latest Biden comment casting doubt on the long-standing U.S. policy of “strategic ambiguity” on the matter. At a news conference in Tokyo, Biden was asked whether the United States was willing to “get involved militarily to defend Taiwan,” considering Washington was reluctant to do so following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Yes. That’s the commitment we made,” Biden said, without elaborating on what a hypothetical U.S. defense of Taiwan would entail. It is Biden’s latest apparent move away from the approach of “strategic ambiguity” that U.S. presidents have long embraced when talking about a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan. In response, China’s Foreign Ministry quickly hit back, saying Beijing has no room for compromise or concessions on matters related to its sovereignty. Biden made similar remarks in October. In both instances, White House officials quickly attempted to clarify his comments.
“As the president said, our policy has not changed. He reiterated our ‘One China’ policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” a White House official said later Monday. The U.S. official, though, did not walk back Biden’s comments about coming to the defense of Taiwan. China, a single-party authoritarian state, views democratic Taiwan as a breakaway province and has long vowed to retake it, by force, if necessary. In recent years, Beijing has also flown an increasing number of warplanes near the island. In Tokyo, Biden said that China is “flirting with danger,” but that he does not expect China will use force to attempt to take Taiwan, especially if the world stands up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“My expectation is that a lot of it depends on just how strongly the world makes clear that that kind of action is going to result in long-term disapprobation,” Biden said.