Directly criticising China for the coronavirus crisis as well as for its actions in the Indo-Pacific region, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for the Quadrilateral dialogue, or “Quad”, to “collaborate” in countering China.
At a meeting in Tokyo of the four-nation grouping, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Mr. Pompeo agreed to make the Quad ministerial meeting an annual event.
Mr. Pompeo also made a specific reference to the India-China standoff at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the “Himalayas”, as well as regional tensions with China .
The remarks prompted a reaction from Beijing, which dubbed the Quad an “anti-China coalition” and an “exclusive clique”.
“As partners in this Quad, it is more critical now than ever that we collaborate to protect our people and partners from the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) exploitation, corruption, and coercion,” said Mr. Pompeo in his initial remarks.
“We’ve seen it in the South, in the East China Sea, the Mekong, the Himalayas, the Taiwan Straits. These are just a few examples,” he added.
Mr. Pompeo also blamed the CCP for a “coverup” of the COVID pandemic, and accused its “authoritarian” regime of “silencing” citizens who raised the alarm.
Within hours of the meeting, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded. “Instead of targeting third parties or undermining their interests, cooperation should be conducive to mutual understanding and trust between regional countries,” said a statement issued in Beijing.
Besides the U.S., none of the other Quad members referred to China directly, and nor did the separate readouts of the meeting issued in Washington, Delhi, Tokyo, Canberra.
A press release issued by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs after the meeting and ministerial dinner said the ministers had “exchanged views on the regional situation in North Korea, the East China Sea and the South China Sea”, but made no reference to China or the LAC standoff.
In his speech, Mr. Jaishankar spoke of the shared commitments that Quad members have “as vibrant and pluralistic democracies with shared values” towards upholding the rules-based international order, underpinned by the rule of law, transparency, freedom of navigation in the international seas, respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty and peaceful resolution of disputes.” He also stressed that as a member of the UN Security Council next year, India would push for “collective solutions” to global challenges like the pandemic, and for UN reform.
Ms. Payne said the Quad has a “positive agenda” and described it as a “diplomatic network” assisting democracies that believe in a “region governed by rules, not power,” in another oblique reference to Beijing.
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As The Hindu had reported earlier, no statement was issued on whether Australia will be included in this year’s Malabar exercises, but sources said an announcement would be made prior to the naval exercises in November.
An MEA statement said the Quad ministers had discussed responses to the pandemic, including “financial problems”, as well as the need to enhance access to affordable vaccines and medical equipment. They also discussed issues of connectivity, maritime and health security, counter-terrorism, and the supply chain resilience initiative (SCRI) aimed at building regional alternatives in manufacturing and trading.
Earlier in the day, all four Quadrilateral ministers called on the new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
Mr. Jaishankar said he had “spoken about the bilateral and global dimensions of our special partnership,” with Mr. Suga, and in his speech Mr. Jaishankar paid a tribute to former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who had first promoted the idea of the Quad, that had grown out of their disaster relief operations during the 2005 Tsunami in the Indo-Pacific.
Mr. Jaishankar also held a bilateral meeting with Mr. Pompeo, who is due to travel to Delhi later this month along with U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper for the “2+2” meeting.
Mr. Jaishankar is expected to hold bilateral meetings with Ms. Payne and Mr. Motegi before he leaves for Delhi on Wednesday.