TOKYO -- The Indo-Pacific region is facing "unprecedented challenges" to a rules based order, a senior U.S. State Department official said, adding that the informal security grouping of the U.S., Japan, Australia and India known as "the Quad" may welcome new members in the future as the countries look to counter China's growing influence.
Marc Knapper, deputy assistant secretary of state for Korea and Japan, on Saturday said the Quad "is a voluntary grouping of like-minded nations that share common values of democracy, of rule of law, respect for human rights and a respect for freedom."
Speaking at the Mount Fuji Dialogue, an annual gathering of business and political leaders from Japan and the U.S., Knapper said that while the Quad has waxed and waned since its inception, "this is something that I think we've really latched on to, our four countries, as something that's worth pursuing, and now it's something that we we regularly pursue at the ministerial level."
Knapper said the Quad is not currently "advertising for new members" or asking "who can sign up and what are your qualifications?" But once the group determines its policy direction, it will not exclude other countries, he said.
"The Quad is not meant to be an exclusive ... or insular organization," he said. "At some point in the future, perhaps it'll expand."
The diplomat said definitively that the aggressive actions of China have presented the Indo-Pacific with a challenge and a choice. He said it is "a choice between a region governed by rules and law and order and transparency, or a region dominated by the PRC's vision of an authoritarian state-led system," referring to the People's Republic of China, the country's formal name.
"It's clear that we and our partners, Japan, Australia and others, we've made our choice. We've made clear what we intend to do and what we want to do to face this challenge that's raised by China," he said.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said in a video message to the gathering that it is important to strengthen the deterrence of the Japan-U.S. alliance to ensure the security of Japan and the surrounding area.
Suga's defense minister, Nobuo Kishi, said in a video message that China is greatly raising the quality and quantity of its military power, rapidly and without transparency. Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi also pointed out that the balance of power is shifting drastically in the Indo-Pacific region.
Katsutoshi Kawano, former chief of the joint staff of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, said it is "important for Japan, the U.S., Australia and India to lead in order to protect freedom of the seas in the Indo-Pacific." China's recent border clash with India and escalating tensions with Australia over its response to the coronavirus resulted in Quad members strengthening their cooperation, Kawano said. It remains unclear whether other Asian countries will join the group.
Kenichiro Sasae, president of the Japan Institute of International Affairs, said countries "wouldn't want to be bullied by China." Adm. Philip Davidson, head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, said it is necessary not only to have missile defense and naval and air force capabilities, but also to develop capabilities in space and cybersecurity to counter China.