The Australian government is touting the "historic" nature of a maiden leadership meeting led by the US in the face of bitter recriminations from the Chinese government.
Scott Morrison will join the heads of the United States, Japan and India later this week in an online meeting of the relatively new diplomatic group dubbed 'the Quad' – an alliance largely understood to be about countering China's growing power in Australia's region.
The prime minister will be joined by US President Joe Biden, Japanese leader Yoshihide Suga and India's Narendra Modi in the first leadership level meeting since the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue was established in 2007.
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi accused the four nations of "selective multilateralism" this week while a state mouthpiece lashed out at the meeting as an "empty talk club".
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison brushed aside the angry protestations of the Chinese Communist Party.
"The Indo-Pacific is our world. This is where Australia lives," he said.
"Our security, our peace and stability that all Australians rely on for their freedom ... depends on the peace and stability of our region.
"What the Quad is about is ensuring an open, independent, sovereign Indo-Pacific that enables all countries and nations within the Indo-Pacific to engage with each other," Mr Morrison said.
Trade Minister Dan Tehan said the meeting showed the new US president put the Indo-Pacific at the top of his agenda.
In an interview with the ABC on Wednesday, he repeatedly side-stepped assertions the alliance is about curtailing Chinese power while touting the March 13 virtual meeting as "historic".
Among the topics of discussion with be the rollout of Covid vaccines in the region as India has already urged the other Quad members to invest in its vaccine production capacity, in an attempt to counter China's widening vaccine diplomacy. Leaders will also discuss trade, the situation in Myanmar and climate change.
On Tuesday, state run media outlet The Global Times chided the group's "all-for-itself" agenda, saying it would render the alliance doomed to fail.
"The divergences in each country's goals will eventually dissipate the Quad, which will make it resemble an empty talk club," it said.
'Be prepared': US reveals China sent 'unmistakable message'
Chinese president Xi Jinping has warned the country's military needs to "be prepared to respond" and called for "combat readiness" in a foreboding address ahead of the Quad leaders meeting.
"The current security situation of our country is largely unstable and uncertain," he said on Tuesday.
"Be prepared to respond to a variety of complex and difficult situations at any time, resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests, and provide strong support for the comprehensive construction of a modern socialist state."
The remarks were made at a televised panel discussion attended by senior representatives of China's armed forces during the annual legislative sessions in Beijing, the South China Morning Post reported.
Meanwhile a senior US military official has described a recent missile launch in the South China Sea as an "unmistakable message" to the United States.
Admiral Philip Davidson, the combatant commander leading US Indo-Pacific Command told US Senators overnight that the Chinese military fired multiple carrier killer missiles into the South China Sea last year, in what he said was a display of might designed to show that China's military could threaten US aircraft carriers.
"These mid-range, anti-ship ballistic missiles are capable of attacking aircraft carriers in the western Pacific," he said
"The PRC [People's Republic of China] is not merely developing advanced weapons systems but is increasingly employing them in training and exercise scenarios to hone PLA [People's Liberation Army] war fighting skills and send an unmistakable message to regional and global audiences."
The admiral added concerns over China's stated ambition to reclaim Taiwan, saying the country's government is wielding an "increasingly assertive military posture to exert pressure and expand its influence across the region".
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