Prime Minister Fumio Kishida spoke by phone with his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, on Friday, with the two agreeing to work together to realize a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” region, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.

The leaders affirmed cooperation with the other members of the “Quad,” Australia and the United States, the ministry said, and voiced “strong opposition to any economic coercion and any unilateral attempt to change the status quo by force” in a veiled reference to China’s growing maritime assertiveness.

In their first phone talks since Kishida took office earlier this week, the two leaders agreed to cooperate on various fronts, including personnel exchanges and national security, as the countries prepare to mark 70 years of diplomatic ties next year, the ministry said.

They also agreed to “elevate Japan and India’s special strategic and global partnership to a new level” and plan for the Japanese leader to visit India “at an appropriate time.”

The 25-minute conversation was held after the Japanese leader also held phone talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping amid growing tensions surrounding the Taiwan Strait.

Fumio Kishida | BLOOMBERG
Fumio Kishida | BLOOMBERG

The four Quad nations have been bolstering ties to counter China’s growing economic and military clout.

In recent years, Beijing has become more assertive regarding its claim to the Senkaku Islands, a group of Japanese-administered islets in the East China Sea that China calls Diaoyu. It has also continued to militarize artificial islands in the South China Sea despite a 2016 international ruling against its claims in the waters.

Kishida also told Modi that the recent test-firing of missiles by North Korea is a “threat to peace and security” and called for India’s support to resolve the issue of Pyongyang’s past abductions of Japanese nationals, according to the ministry.

Kishida’s predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, was originally slated to visit India during Japan’s Golden Week holidays this spring. But the trip was canceled amid a rise in COVID-19 infections at home.

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