Leaders of the United States, Japan, India and Australia proclaimed Friday a shared commitment to safeguarding democracy in the Indo-Pacific region, leaving unspoken their common concern about China's growing power.
The leaders from the group of four countries, known as "the Quad," met at the White House, marking the first time U.S. President Joe Biden has held an in-person summit during his presidency.
"We're four major democracies with a long history of cooperation. We know how to get things done and we are up to the challenge," Biden said alongside his fellow leaders: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
While the four did not directly mention China in their public remarks, Beijing had been expected to be a large focus of their private meeting.
Suga said the meeting showed an "unwavering commitment" among the four countries to a "free and open Indo-Pacific."
Morrison said, "We believe in a free and open Indo-Pacific, because we know that's what delivers a strong, stable and prosperous region."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian appeared to criticize the Quad in comments to reporters earlier Friday in Beijing.
"A closed, exclusive clique targeting other countries runs counter to the trend of the times and the aspirations of regional countries. It will find no support and is doomed to fail," he said.
Following the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue meeting, Biden had a one-on-one meeting with Suga, who is soon to step down from his post.
Ahead of the meeting, Biden held talks with Modi, who told reporters that under Biden's leadership "the seeds have been sown for the Indo-U.S. relations to expand, and for all democratic countries in the world, this is going to be a transformative period."
Biden said he predicted in 2006 that India and the U.S. would be the closest countries in the world. He said the U.S.-India relationship "is destined to be stronger, closer and tighter, and I believe it can benefit the whole world."
The Quad leaders, who met virtually in March, had been expected to discuss cooperation on a range of topics Friday.
A White House statement from press secretary Jen Psaki said those topics would include "combating COVID-19, addressing the climate crisis, partnering on emerging technologies and cyberspace, and promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific."
China has been steadily building military outposts in the Pacific region and using them to back claims to sovereignty over vital sea lanes.
The Washington meeting comes in the wake of a recently announced agreement among the U.S., Britain and Australia to supply Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.
The deal angered France by undercutting a deal it had to sell Australia diesel submarines. France recalled its ambassadors from both the U.S. and Australia in protest.
China condemned the deal, calling it damaging to regional peace.
The Quad meeting also comes amid stronger talk by the U.S. and its allies in support of Taiwan, which China views as a rogue province, and a renewed effort by the European Union to enhance its naval presence in the region.
After collapsing in 2008, the Quad was reestablished in 2017.
Some information for this report came from the Associated Press and Reuters.