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Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Tuesday sought the deepening of ties between the so-called Quad countries —India, US, Australia and Japan —and other nations, sharing the vision of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific", possibly opening the door for the inclusion of more nations into the bloc that is seen as a counterweight to an aggressive China.

However, the fact that the foreign ministers of India, US, Australia and Japan who met in Tokyo on Tuesday for the second time at the Quad level could not come out with a joint statement seemed to indicate that the four countries themselves had differences in perception over the concept of the ‘Indo-Pacific.’ India’s statement after the Quad talks seemed to confirm this given that it said the Quad “highlighted their readiness to work towards realizing a common vision for the Indo-Pacific."

While it is seen a bloc of like-minded democracies that advocate “the rule of law" and “freedom of navigation"—in contrast to China—analysts say that barring the US, the other countries have reservations about openly antagonizing Beijing. China, on its part, views the grouping as having come together with the aim of containing it.

Suga’s remarks came when the three visiting ministers called on him. The “various challenges facing the international society after the outbreak" and the spread of covid-19 “make it all the more necessary to further deepen ties with many more countries which share the vision of ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ and build up concrete cooperation with them," Suga said, said a Japanese government statement.

In their opening remarks at the Quad meeting, all four countries spoke of shared basic values like standing for “freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and freedom of navigation." But while US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed China by name, the others seemed more circumspect.

Indian foreign minister S. Jaishankar said the group remained “committed to upholding the rules-based international order, underpinned by the rule of law, transparency, freedom of navigation in the international seas, respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty and peaceful resolution of disputes."

“Our objective remains advancing the security and the economic interests of all countries having legitimate and vital interests in the region," he said.

Australian foreign minister Marise Payne said that the Quad “has a positive agenda."

“It’s a diplomatic network that assists us as democracies to align ourselves in support of shared interests. We believe in a region governed by rules, not power. We believe in the fundamental importance of individual rights and in a region which—in which disputes are resolved according to international law," she said.

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