MELBOURNE, Australia—The U.S. warned that Russian aggression against Ukraine risked spreading instability to the Indo-Pacific if it wasn’t opposed and deepened ties to three allies that aim to counter threats to the region, including from China.

U.S. Secretary of State

Antony Blinken,

speaking alongside the foreign ministers of Australia, India and Japan, told reporters that the Ukraine crisis is a challenge to the basic principles that have upheld global prosperity and stability since World War II, saying countries shouldn’t be allowed to unilaterally change borders, dictate choices to their neighbors or exert a sphere of influence.

“If we allow those principles to be challenged with impunity, even if it’s half a world away in Europe, that will have an impact here as well,” Mr. Blinken said Friday on a visit to Melbourne for a meeting with his counterparts from what is known as the Quad. “Others are watching; others are looking to all of us to see how we respond.”

While Mr. Blinken sought to shore up ties with regional partners, the White House on Friday released its formal Indo-Pacific strategy. The 12-page document codifies the Biden administration’s approach to the region, stressing the centrality of U.S. alliances to build and maintain openness and prosperity, and contrasting it with China.

The document calls out Beijing for using economic, diplomatic, military and technological might to make the Indo-Pacific China’s sphere of influence. It cites the economic pressure China has placed on Australia, a bloody border clash with India, the bullying of neighbors in the South China Sea and stepped-up military activities around Taiwan.

“The PRC’s coercion and aggression spans the globe, but it is most acute in the Indo-Pacific,” the document says, referring to China’s formal name, the People’s Republic of China. The document later says, “Our collective efforts over the next decade will determine whether the PRC succeeds in transforming the rules and norms that have benefitted the Indo-Pacific and the world.”

The Quad comes in for a critical role in the strategy, being mentioned 13 times, as do other alliances and partnerships in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.

Mr. Blinken and his Quad counterparts emphasized that the grouping exists to assert shared values and find avenues for cooperation, rather than to counter any one country, but they described threats to the prevailing regional and international order.

“Our region is in a period of rising strategic uncertainty,” Australian Foreign Minister

Marise Payne

said following the meeting. “The rules and norms that have provided a foundation for our stability and, hence, our prosperity are under pressure, in particular, from authoritarian regimes.”

From left to right, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi in Melbourne on Friday.



Photo:

Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

The Biden administration has sought to elevate the Quad, a so-far informal grouping of the U.S., Australia, India and Japan, to promote the benefits of democracy, coordinate on economic and security issues, and counter China’s increased military activity in the Indo-Pacific. In September, President Biden hosted his Quad counterparts in Washington, and Japan has agreed to host the second in-person Quad leaders’ summit during the first half of 2022.

Earlier, when asked whether a confrontation with China in the Indo-Pacific region was inevitable, Mr. Blinken said that “nothing is inevitable” but that the Quad members “share concerns that in recent years China has been acting more repressively at home and more aggressively in the region and, indeed, potentially beyond.”

Mr. Blinken said his presence in the region amid the crisis in Europe demonstrates the importance of the Indo-Pacific and underscores Washington’s commitment to the region, which he said would shape the trajectory of the 21st century.

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Photo composite: Daniel Orton

Russia has roughly 100,000 troops positioned near Ukraine, plus additional forces conducting exercises in Belarus and deployed to the Black Sea. U.S. officials estimate that Russian President

Vladimir Putin

has 70% of the forces he needs in place to mount a full-scale invasion.

“We’re in a window when an invasion could begin at any time, and to be clear, that includes during the Olympics,” Mr. Blinken said. He said the U.S. would continue reducing the footprint of its embassy in Kyiv, from which families of diplomats were ordered to depart in January.

Taiwan, a democratically ruled island that China claims, has increasingly been a point of friction between Washington and Beijing. The new Indo-Pacific strategy said the U.S. wants to “maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, including by supporting Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities” so that Taiwan can determine its future.

The strategy document notes the importance of trade as a driver of prosperity and U.S. links to the region but doesn’t offer any proposed liberalization or market access initiatives. Regional partners have looked for U.S. offers on trade after then-President

Donald Trump

withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal that the Obama administration signed with Pacific countries.

The Biden administration is opting for a looser set of standards in an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, details of which, a senior administration official, said would be coming soon

The foreign-affairs ministers of the Quad countries held a joint press conference on Friday.



Photo:

KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS

Foreign-policy experts expected the Quad discussions to be watched particularly closely given that the meeting comes shortly after Mr. Putin and Chinese leader

Xi Jinping

met in Beijing and formed a pact aimed at countering the U.S. and its allies.

Although Mr. Blinken didn’t directly address the new pact between China and Russia, Ms. Payne, Australia’s foreign minister, said she is worried about the closer ties. China is an important trading partner for Australia, but relations between the two countries have worsened in recent years.

“It is concerning because it doesn’t present or represent a global order that squares with those ambitions for freedom and openness and sovereignty and the protection of territorial integrity,” she said of the pact.

Write to Courtney McBride at [email protected] and Mike Cherney at [email protected]

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