India, Australia, US and Japan today held their first meeting on the 'Quadrilateral' coalition ahead of the ASEAN summit beginning in Manila, Philippines, on Tuesday, moving a step closer to vision of an India-Pacific security cooperation nearer to realisation
India, Australia and Japan also issued separate statements listing the Indo-Pacific as the major area of the deliberations and resolved to expand cooperation to uphold a rules-based order and respect for international law in the strategically important region.
US President Donald Trump also separately met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as he pushed his vision of an Indo-Pacific region that attempts to de-emphasise China's influence. He also met with Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ahead of Tuesday's meeting.
The meeting comes ahead of the ASEAN summit on Tuesday, which is also likely to discuss the security challenges facing the Indo-Pacific region and China's military expansion in the South China Sea.
The meeting, which focuses on keeping the Indo-Pacific region "free and open", is seen as the first official response to China's aggressive behaviour in the area.
In a statement, the ministry of external affairs (MEA) said the consultations were held on issues of common interest in the Indo-Pacific region with a focus on cooperation based on converging vision and values for promotion of peace, stability and prosperity in the area.
"They agreed that a free, open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region serves the long-term interests of all countries in the region and of the world at large. The officials also exchanged views on addressing common challenges of terrorism and proliferation linkages impacting the region as well as on enhancing connectivity," the MEA said.
In its statement, the Japanese foreign ministry said officials discussed measures to ensure a free and open international order based on the rule of law in the Indo- Pacific.
"From this perspective, the participants discussed the direction for cooperation, including with countries in the region, in upholding the rules-based order and respect for international law in the Indo-Pacific," it said.
The Australian foreign ministry said the four countries shared a vision for increased prosperity and security in the Indo-Pacific region and will work together to ensure that it "remains free and open".
"The officials examined ways to achieve common goals and address shared challenges in the region. This includes upholding the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific and respect for international law, freedom of navigation and overflight, increase connectivity," it said.
The MEA said the Indian side highlighted India's 'Act East' policy as the cornerstone of its engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.
The meeting also deliberated on enhancing cooperation in dealing with challenges of terrorism and talked about tackling proliferation threats, including North Korea's nuclear and missile programme.
"Officials also agreed to work together to address threats to international peace and security posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including the DPRK's (North Korea) nuclear and missile programmes," the Australian foreign ministry said.
It said the four countries committed to continuing the quadrilateral discussions and deepening cooperation on the basis of shared values and principles.
The MEA said, "The discussions focused on cooperation based on their converging vision and values for promotion of peace, stability and prosperity in an increasingly inter-connected region that they share with each other and with other partners".
The formation of a quadrilateral security dialogue comprising India, the US, Australia and Japan was first mooted around 10 years ago but it did not see the light of day.
Japan's foreign minister Taro Kono last month had said that Tokyo favours the quadrilateral dialogue to further boost strategic partnership among the four countries.
The US and Japan have been pushing for a deeper Indian role in the strategically key Indo-Pacific region. Joint Secretary (South division) in the MEA, Vinay Kumar and Joint Secretary (East Asia) Pranay Verma attended the meeting.