President Joe Biden told fellow Indo-Pacific leaders assembled for a four-country summit in Tokyo on Tuesday that they were navigating "a dark hour in our shared history” due to Russia's brutal war on Ukraine.
He urged the group to make a greater effort to stop Vladimir Putin's aggression. “This is more than just a European issue. It's a global issue,” Biden said as the “Quad” summit with Japan, Australia and India got under way.
Made up of the US, Australia, India and Japan, the regional group is seen as a counter-balance to Chinese influence in the region. This is the second face-to-face meeting of the four leaders in less than a year.
It comes as Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced Moscow's intention to build closer ties with Beijing.
The US president's message appeared to be pointed, at least in part, at Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Unlike other Quad countries and nearly every other US ally, India has not imposed sanctions or even condemned Russia, its biggest supplier of military hardware.
Biden made the case that the world has a shared responsibility to do something to assist Ukrainian resistance against Russia’s aggression.
“We’re navigating a dark hour in our shared history," he said. “The Russian brutal and unprovoked war against Ukraine has triggered a humanitarian catastrophe and innocent civilians have been killed in the streets and millions of refugees are internally displaced as well as in exile.”
“The world has to deal with it, and we are,” he added.
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For several of the bigger Asian powers, the invasion has been seen as a crucial moment for the world to demonstrate by a strong response to Russia that China should not try to seize contested territory through military action.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, taking note of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, told the other leaders: “We cannot let the same thing happen in the Indo-Pacific region.”
A reminder of tensions in the region came during Biden’s trip. Chinese and Russian strategic bombers conducted joint flights around Japan on Tuesday.
Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi described the exercise as a “threat” and “an increased level of provocation,” and said the cooperation between China and Russia was “concerning and unacceptable.”
The White House has been effusive in its praise of several Pacific countries, including Japan, Singapore and South Korea, for stepping up to hit Russia with tough sanctions and export bans while offering humanitarian and military assistance to Kyiv.
However, the White House has been disappointed with the relative silence of India, the world’s biggest democracy.
After a one-on-one meeting with Modi in Japan, Biden said they discussed Russia's invasion of Ukraine "and the effect it has on the entire global world order."
But in a reflection of India's relationship with Moscow, the Quad leaders' post-summit joint statement made no mention of Russia.
The Indian prime minister made no public commitment to get off from Russian oil, and Biden has publicly referred to India as “somewhat shaky” in its response to the invasion.
Facing Western pressure, India has condemned civilian deaths in Ukraine and called for an immediate cessation of hostilities. Yet it also has compounded fallout from a war that has caused a global food shortage by banning wheat exports at a time when starvation is a growing risk in parts of the world.
The summit came on the final day of Biden's five-day visit to Japan and South Korea, Biden's first trip to Asia as president.
It also marked new Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese's first moment on the global stage. The center-left Labor Party defeated Prime Minister Scott Morrison over the weekend, ending the conservative leader's nine-year rule.