As the talks took place in Tokyo on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on key Asian allies to unite against China’s “exploitation, corruption and coercion” in the region.
Pompeo spoke at the beginning of the discussion with his Japanese, Indian and Australian counterparts – the so-called Quad Group, who sought to present a united front against the increasingly determined Beijing.
But when he referred to the “epidemic from Wuhan” that he had “infinitely worsened by the cover-up of the American Communist Party”, it was the top US diplomat who took the most difficult view of China.
Citing China’s actions in the Himalayas, the Taiwan Strait and elsewhere, he warned that “our cooperation in protecting our people and our allies from the exploitation, corruption and coercion of the CCP is more important now than ever before.”
This rhetoric was not fully echoed by Washington’s partners, although Australian Foreign Minister Marice Payne pointed out that the choice for a region was “governed by rules, not by power”.
Negotiations with Washington, Sydney and New Delhi are in conflict with Beijing.
Indian Foreign Minister Subramaniam Jaisankar said the meeting was a testament to the “importance” of the alliance in view of the corona virus epidemic.
But Japan, led by new Prime Minister Yoshihide Chouka, is seeking to balance the need to support its allies with its desire to gradually improve relations with China.
Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Modeki did not mention China in his comments, and the government said the talks were not aimed at any one country.
“Recently, the current international order has been challenged in various fields and the new corona virus is accelerating the trend,” Modeki said at the beginning of the meeting.
“All four of our countries share the goal of strengthening a free and open, rule-based international order.”
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Despite the corona virus crisis in Washington, the visit of President Donald Trump and many other staff and advisers to Pompeo tested positive, including bilateral talks with his colleagues and a meeting with Suka.
Despite the cancellation of planned ceasefires in South Korea and Mongolia, Pompeo said it was important to advance four-way talks in Tokyo, promising “significant announcements”.
However, no joint statement or press conference is expected after the meeting.
Pompeo, who sought to blame the Trump administration for Beijing ahead of next month’s US election, has been a vocal critic of China over issues ranging from security to human rights.
He is the first senior U.S. official to visit Japan since Suu Kyi took office last month, and she said she believes Tokyo and Washington are on the same page.
Earlier on Tuesday, Suka said the spread of the corona virus had “shown why now is the time to further deepen coordination with as many countries as possible to share our vision”.
But he also avoided any specific reference to Beijing, which as a group has clarified its hatred, urging countries last week to avoid “closed and exclusive” groups.
“We believe that the countries concerned can proceed from the common interests of the countries in the region and can do many things that are conducive to regional peace, stability and development, there is no other way,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenpin said.
Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has greatly encouraged the group to find a way to accelerate cooperation in the face of other threats posed by the region’s major democracies, the military and China.
The first quad meeting took place in New York last year, and there are moves to turn the meeting into an annual event.
hih-si-sah / kaf / qan