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Countering China in Indo-Pacific: Japan backs Sri Lanka as ‘key player’; US, Australia deepen alliance – Times of India

NEW DELHI: In a strong message to China, Japan on Saturday supported Sri Lanka as a key partner in the Indo-Pacific region.

Japan, which is a member of the Quad alliance with India, US and Australia, asserted that the strategically located island is integral to realising a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.
Notably, the Quad grouping has repeatedly expressed support for a free and open Indo-Pacific amid China’s aggressive expansion in the region.

Japanese foreign minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said on Saturday that Sri Lanka is a key partner in a Tokyo-led initiative aimed at building security and economic cooperation around the Indo-Pacific but also at countering an increasingly assertive China.

The initiative, announced by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in March, includes Japan’s assistance to emerging economies, support for maritime security, a provision of coast guard patrol boats and equipment and other infrastructure cooperation.

Sri Lanka, which is currently going through an economic crisis, is one of the nations that have fallen prey to China’s “debt-trap” diplomacy.
While Japan is Sri Lanka’s largest creditor, about 10 per cent of its debt is held by China, which lent Colombo billions to build sea ports, airports and power plants as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.
In March, China agreed to offer Sri Lanka a two-year moratorium on loan repayments.
The Japanese minister also pressed bankrupt Sri Lanka to expedite its debt restructuring with China to stabilise the island nation’s economy after an unprecedented crisis.
‘US, Australia to cooperate with India on Indo-Pacific’
While Japan endorsed Sri Lanka’s role in the region, its fellow Quad partners US and Australia on Saturday agreed to further cooperate with countries like India to ensure the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific.
Officials from the two countries on Saturday met in Brisbane at the 33rd Australia-US Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN).
During the meeting, US and Australia reached an agreement to expand the US military footprint on the southern continent, as both countries bolster defence ties to respond to an increasingly assertive China.
The changes include more frequent and longer visits of US submarines to Australia, a regular rotation of US Army watercraft and collaborating on guided missile production.

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(L-R) US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Australian foreign minister Penny Wong, Australian defence minister Richard Marles and US secretary of defence Lloyd Austin in Brisbane (AFP)
They welcomed Fiji, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga’s participation in Exercise TALISMAN SABRE 2023 for the first time, as well as India, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines as inaugural observers, according to a fact sheet released by the US Department of Defence.
The two countries welcomed progress under the AUKUS partnership (the trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) toward the Australian acquisition of a conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarine capability and the development of advanced capabilities to safeguard stability and security in the Indo-Pacific.
Australia and the US have significantly deepened their security ties since 2021 in the face of growing strategic competition between Washington and Beijing.
While China is Australia’s largest trading partner by a substantial margin, Washington and Canberra have a long-standing alliance dating back to World War II. Both countries are also members of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance, along with Canada, New Zealand and the UK.
The simultaneous but unrelated developments come at a time when US, India 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 manoeuvring in the resource-rich region.
China claims nearly all of the disputed South China Sea, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts of it. Beijing has built artificial islands and military installations in the South China Sea. China also has territorial disputes with Japan in the East China Sea.
(With inputs from agencies)



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