Prime Minister Narendra Modi with ASEAN leaders attend the ASEAN-India Informal Breakfast Summit, in Singapore, on Nov. 15, 2018. (PIB/PTI)

Senior officials of India, Australia, Japan, and the United States met here on Thursday and held consultations on regional and global issues of common interest, amid China flexing its muscles in the strategic Indo-Pacific region, writes Gurdip Singh, PTI.

The discussions focused on cooperation in areas such as connectivity, sustainable development, counter-terrorism, non-proliferation and maritime and cybersecurity, with a view to promoting peace, stability, and prosperity in an increasingly inter-connected Indo-Pacific region that the four countries share with each other and with other partners, the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement in New Delhi.

The participants – officials from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan and Department of State of the United States of America – reaffirmed the ASEAN centrality as the cornerstone of a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific, it said.

The US has been pushing for a broader role by India in the strategically important Indo-Pacific region.

India, the US, and several other world powers have been talking about the need to ensure a free, open and thriving Indo-Pacific in the backdrop of China’s rising military maneuvering in the region.

In November last year, India, the US, Australia, and Japan gave shape to the long-pending Quadrilateral coalition to develop a new strategy to keep the critical sea routes in the Indo-Pacific free of Chinese influence.

China claims almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea and has also laid claims on the Senkaku islands under the control of Japan in the East China Sea.

Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan have counterclaims over the South China Sea.

The US is periodically deploying its naval ships and fighter planes to assert freedom of navigation.

In a statement, the State Department said that the senior officials highlighted the complementary visions for the region held by their four countries, grounded in a shared support for a free, open and inclusive region that fosters universal respect for international law, freedom of navigation and overflight, and sustainable development.

The US officials underscored the importance of coordinated and complementary engagement to advance shared regional interests including support for the new Maldivian government and encouragement of an outcome to political developments in Sri Lanka consistent with democratic principles, it said.

They focused on their shared goals including support for sustainable development, connectivity, and good governance, it said.

The officials committed to driving broad economic development that harnesses the region’s full potential and fosters connectivity and development of infrastructure based on transparency, genuine need, sustainable debt burden, and other principles in accordance with international standards, the State Department said.

They reaffirmed their strong support for ASEAN centrality and the ASEAN-led regional architecture, as well as their support for other regional institutions such as the Indian Ocean Rim Association and the Pacific Islands Forum, it added.

The MEA said that all the four countries agreed to partner with other countries and forums in the region to promote a free, open, rules-based and inclusive order in the Indo-Pacific region that fosters trust and confidence.

They committed to strengthening connectivity and quality infrastructure based on sovereignty, equality and territorial integrity of all nations, as well as transparency, economic viability, and financial responsibility, it said.

The officials also exchanged views on recent developments in the regional situation and agreed to continue the consultations, the statement added.