U.S. President Donald Trump has awarded the prestigious Legion of Merit to former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for his "leadership and vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific," the U.S. government said Monday.

The medal was also presented to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for "elevating the U.S.-India strategic partnership" and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison for "addressing global challenges and promoting collective security," the National Security Council said on Twitter.

The United States, Australia, India and Japan have been working together toward a "free and open Indo-Pacific" by holding meetings under the "Quad" framework, a grouping which the Trump administration has viewed as helpful to counter China's growing clout in the region.

Abe stepped down in September due to health reasons after serving as prime minister for nearly eight years. He forged a close relationship with Trump, who took office in 2017.

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) claps, alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as they watch the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo on May 26, 2019. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Japanese Ambassador to the United States Shinsuke Sugiyama received the medal on behalf of Abe, according to the NSC.

The Legion of Merit is given to uniformed U.S. military service members and military and political figures of foreign governments for outstanding services and achievements.