TOKYO, Oct 6, 2020, AFP. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned on Tuesday of Beijing’s “malign activity in the region” as he met with key Asia-Pacific allies in Tokyo, presenting a united front against an increasingly assertive China, South China Morning Post reported.
The top US diplomat is meeting his Japanese, Australian and Indian counterparts on a trip that was scaled back following the coronavirus crisis in Washington, where US President Donald Trump and a raft of staff and advisers have contracted Covid-19.
Stops in South Korea and Mongolia were scrapped, but Pompeo said the gathering of the so-called Quad had taken time to put together and was expected to produce “some significant announcements”.
His first meeting was with Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, in which they “discussed their shared concerns regarding the People’s Republic of China’s malign activity in the region”, a US State Department official said.
The US, Australia and India are all at loggerheads with Beijing – leaving Japan in the delicate position of standing alongside its allies while attempting to preserve gradually improving ties with China.
Pompeo is the first senior US official to visit Japan since Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga took office last month, and he said he was confident Tokyo and Washington were on the same page.
Most Asian allies have been pleased with Washington’s toughness toward their regional rival China, but have not so eagerly welcomed Trump and Pompeo’s highly charged recent rhetoric and remain wary of going too far in antagonising China.
“In his first statement after assuming office, Prime Minister Suga described the free and open Indo-Pacific as ‘the foundation of regional peace and stability’. I could not agree more,” he said at the start of talks with his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi.
“Prime Minister Suga is a powerful force for good,” Pompeo said. “The United States has every reason to believe he will strengthen our enduring alliance in his new role.
“I would only add, the foundation’s cornerstone is the US-Japan relationship and the security and prosperity it has provided for our peoples.”
Pompeo is a vociferous critic of China on issues from security to human rights to the coronavirus pandemic, which Trump’s administration has sought to blame squarely on Beijing ahead of the US election on November 3.
He has led an international campaign for other nations to shun China, including its technology.
Japan’s Foreign Ministry offered only a broad summary of the bilateral talks, saying they touched on “the situation in the East China Sea, the South China Sea and North Korea”.
The Quad was heavily promoted by Japan’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe as a way for the region’s major democracies to step up cooperation in the face of military and other threats posed by China.
China has denounced the Quad as an attempt to contain its development. While the Quad meeting is unlikely to yield a specific action plan, the very fact of its gathering would serve as a warning to China and play to its fears that it might one day grow into a formalised grouping as Nato, experts have said.
The Foreign Ministry last week urged countries to avoid “closed and exclusive ‘cliques’”.
“We hope the relevant countries can proceed from the common interests of countries in the region, and do more things that are conducive to regional peace, stability and development, not the other way around,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said.
The agenda for the Quad meeting is expected to include economic recovery after the Covid-19 pandemic, supply chains, disinformation, critical minerals, infrastructure investment in the region and counterterrorism, officials involved in preparation for the meeting said.
A joint communique is not expected to be issued, because the Quad is not a formal alliance, but foreign ministers are expected to release separate statements after the meeting.
The first Quad meeting took place in New York last year, and there are moves to make the gathering an annual event.
Additional reporting by Reuters