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Pompeo calls for Quad to unite against Chinese coercion amid Covid crisis

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's cover-up

Mike Pompeo | Quad | China

Isabel Reynolds | Bloomberg 

Mike Pompeo
Mike Pompeo

US 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 -- also including Australia, India and Japan -- began 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 gathering of ministers in Japan in almost a year demonstrates solidarity at a time when is feuding with at least three of its members: Australia, the US 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’s 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 reporters, with the foreign ministers from the three other states by his side.

“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 signals a willingness to continue some of his predecessor Shinzo Abe’s more hawkish security projects. 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, the country’s biggest trading partner, in his comments. He said the could help strengthen the 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 Nobody can contain China.”

Pompeo’s Visit

The 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 US 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.

“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 US 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.

Pompeo held bilateral meetings with counterparts Marise Payne of Australia, Motegi of Japan and Jaishankar as well as with Suga, ahead of the formal gathering, which was one of the biggest in-person diplomatic events in the time of the pandemic.

Australia and China have been locked in an 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 will also be the first big diplomatic event for Suga, after coming to the premier’s job 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 US He also agreed to work closely with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a recent phone call.

United Front

The four ministers were expected to discuss the pandemic and the regional situation, as well as the importance of cooperation. With no joint statement expected from the meeting, its value could be more symbolic than concrete, although Japan is seeking 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.

India is also expected to invite Australia to take part in an annual naval drill, expanding what has been a trilateral event with the US 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.

The elevation last year of the discussion from official-level talks suggests the previously informal framework was being strengthened to improve intelligence-gathering and present a united front on regional security issues.

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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First Published: Tue, October 06 2020. 18:45 IST