NEW YORK – The foreign ministers of Japan, the United States and India agreed Monday in New York to work together to develop strategically important ports and other infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific region, apparently seeking to balance China’s bid to strengthen its regional influence.
Foreign Minister Taro Kono said he, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj “completely agreed to coordinate with each other toward the realization of a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
They agreed to work to spread and establish their shared basic values of the rule of law and the freedom of navigation and overflight in the region, Foreign Ministry officials said.
The ministers affirmed that they will strengthen connectivity in the region through investment in infrastructure and work together to assist strategically important coastal nations in the region with maritime capacity-building, centering on key ports.
According to the U.S. State Department, the ministers “discussed the importance of a free and open Indo-Pacific region underpinned by a resilient, rules-based architecture that enables every nation to prosper.”
The affirmation is apparently aimed at China’s assertive territorial claims in the East and South China seas, as well as its drive to develop strategically important ports along the Indian Ocean in a way that would increase its regional influence.
Kono mentioned the port of Gwadar in Pakistan as an example of such a key port, and the three discussed specific countries that could be potential destinations for capacity-building assistance, the Japanese officials said without elaborating further.
Gwadar lies at the end of the nearly 3,000-km China-Pakistan Economic Corridor linking it to western China’s Xinjiang province. China and Pakistan agreed in April 2015 to launch the corridor with about $50 billion in Chinese investment.
The ministers also agreed to boost trilateral maritime security cooperation and to strengthen cooperation on maritime issues with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the officials said.
They welcomed Japan’s participation as a full member in July in the annual Malabar maritime exercises conducted by the Indian and U.S. navies, and agreed to further deepen such trilateral security cooperation in the Indian Ocean.
In their meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, the first such three-way gathering since Kono and Tillerson took up their posts earlier this year, the ministers also agreed to jointly call on other countries to fully and rapidly enforce U.N. sanctions on North Korea.
These sanctions include the most recent U.N. Security Council resolution that for the first time caps oil supply to the country, adopted in response to North Korea’s sixth and most powerful nuclear test conducted Sept. 3.
The ministers also confirmed the importance of China’s role in dealing with North Korea, the officials said.
Kono said he also held a brief meeting with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley later Monday. Kono told reporters that he thanked Haley for showing leadership on North Korea and had a “frank” discussion with her about what to do next on the matter.
He also said he exchanged a few words with U.S. President Donald Trump, but would not reveal the details.
Speaking to reporters ahead of the trilateral ministers’ meeting, Tillerson said the Security Council resolutions “speak for themselves” about the international community’s “unanimous view” that North Korea needs to “correct its situation.”
In a separate meeting on Monday, Kono and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop agreed to work with each other and with the United States to maintain a free and open international order based on the rule of law, including in the Indo-Pacific region.
Kono and Bishop also affirmed that they will continue to work in close coordination on North Korea.