Pompeo Calls for United ‘Quad’ Bloc on China in Virus Crisis
(Bloomberg) -- U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo called on three other Indo-Pacific democracies to band together against coercion from China, in a bid to keep pressure on Beijing amid the coronavirus crisis rocking Washington.
The so-called Quad -- also including Australia, India and Japan -- held its second ministerial-level meeting in Tokyo Tuesday, in an event expected to help firm up New Delhi’s participation in the group. The first international gathering of ministers in Japan in almost a year demonstrates solidarity at a time when China is feuding with at least three of its members: Australia, the U.S. and India.
Ahead of the event, Pompeo reiterated a charge made by the Trump administration that the coronavirus pandemic was made worse by a Chinese Communist Party cover-up. “The regime’s authoritarian nature led its leaders to lock up and silence the very brave Chinese citizens who were raising the alarm,” Pompeo told his counterparts.
“As partners in this Quad, it is more critical now than ever that we collaborate to protect our people and partners from the CCP’s exploitation, corruption and coercion,” he added.
For the host, newly installed Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, the meeting signaled a willingness to continue some of his predecessor Shinzo Abe’s more hawkish security projects. China has expressed concerns that the “Quadrilateral Initiative,” which Abe first helped promote more than a decade ago, is an attempt to form “exclusive cliques” and stoke a “new Cold War.”
Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi avoided mention of China in his comments. He said the Quad could help strengthen the international order and called on countries that share the vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific to join.
“What they’re doing is sending a message to the Chinese side that engagement is more important than assertiveness,” said Kunihiko Miyake, a former diplomat and visiting professor at Japan’s Ritsumeikan University. “It doesn’t mean that this is something to contain China. Nobody can contain China.”
The Quad has gained momentum as President Donald Trump pursues a more confrontational approach to Beijing, while India grows increasingly wary of Chinese economic and military influence in South Asia. The U.S. has since 2017 sought to draw India, which has traditionally protected its non-aligned status, into the fold with a re-branded “Indo-Pacific Strategy.”
India’s foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar was upbeat about the push at one of the biggest in-person diplomatic events in the time of the pandemic.
“Our objective remains advancing the security and the economic interests of all countries having legitimate and vital interests in the region,” Jaishankar said. “It is a matter of satisfaction that the Indo-Pacific concept has gained increasingly wider acceptance.”
That the meeting is happening at all, as Trump battles a Covid-19 infection in Washington, illustrates its importance to the U.S. Pompeo -- one of the Trump administration’s most vocal critics of the Chinese Communist Party -- canceled subsequent stops in Mongolia and South Korea initially planned for later this week.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the group believes in a region where disputes are resolved by rule of law.
Australia and China have been locked in a diplomatic tit-for-tat over Canberra’s support for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus while Indian and Chinese troops are staring each other down after the deadliest clashes in more than four decades on their disputed Himalayan border.
The meeting was the first big diplomatic event for Suga, who took office less than three weeks ago with little foreign policy experience. Suga must strike a balance between Japan’s biggest trading partner, China, and its only military ally, the U.S.
The four ministers discussed the pandemic, the regional situation and the importance of a unified Association of Southeast Asian Nations, according to a statement from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. With no joint declaration from the meeting, its value could be more symbolic than concrete, although the ministers agreed to make it an annual event.
“We hope the relevant countries can think more of the regional countries’ common interests and contribute to regional peace, stability and development rather than doing the opposite,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement ahead of the Tokyo gathering.
India is also expected to invite Australia to take part in an annual naval drill, expanding what has been a trilateral event with the U.S. and Japan, Bloomberg News reported in July. The Quad held its first formal ministerial-level gathering about a year ago in New York, which was seen as a sign of growing unease over Xi’s more assertive foreign policy.
Wang Huiyao, an adviser to China’s cabinet and founder of the Center for China and Globalization, said he doesn’t think a strategic alliance aimed at Beijing is useful or productive. “China is a large trading partner for those nations and has regular collaboration with those nations,” Wang said.
Tuesday’s meeting comes after the trade ministers of Australia, India and Japan agreed last month to work toward achieving supply-chain resilience in the region, following reports that the three nations were looking to work together to counter the trade dominance of the People’s Republic.
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