U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the foreign ministers of Japan, India and Australia pledged to uphold territorial sovereignty and freedom of navigation as rising tension between the countries and China draws them closer to counter Beijing’s expansionist ambitions.
On a visit to Tokyo limited to less than 24 hours because of President Trump’s illness with Covid-19, Mr. Pompeo also met Japan’s new prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, before talks with his three counterparts in the four-nation group known as the Quad.
Mr. Pompeo highlighted the object of U.S. concern: the Chinese Communist Party.
“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. We see it in the South and East China Seas, the Mekong, the Himalayas, the Taiwan Strait,” Mr. Pompeo said.
China had no immediate reaction to the gathering, but last month Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui described the Quad as “an anti-China front line, also known as the mini NATO” during a speech. He added that it reflected “the cold war mentality of the U.S.”
The rare in-person meeting of the four foreign ministers during the coronavirus pandemic is the first since September 2019, and comes as each country’s relations with China have come under increased strain. A deadly border clash between India and China in June, Australian concerns about Chinese domestic political interference, which China denies, and increased Chinese patrols around Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea this year have all steered the democracies toward cooperation.
The ministers discussed economic challenges posed by China and their responses to the pandemic. Mr. Pompeo’s counterparts were less explicit in highlighting Beijing as their concern.
“Whether it is individual human rights, market-based economies, countering disinformation or building greater resilience into our supply chains, our common values and interests mean we share a vision for a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific,” Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a post on her Facebook account after meeting Mr. Pompeo.
Mr. Pompeo initially planned to travel to South Korea and Mongolia after visiting Tokyo but cut his trip short because of Mr. Trump’s illness. Jeffrey Hornung, a security expert at Rand Corp., said the decision to go ahead with the Tokyo meetings signaled the Trump administration’s concern about regional security and the rising importance of the Quad group, which was revived three years ago.
“It sends the clearest warning signal yet that China’s coercive behavior in the Indo-Pacific region is of such a concern and a shared interest for some of the region’s strongest democratic nations that it necessitates a joint discussion amidst a pandemic,” Mr. Hornung said.
Originally formed in 2004 for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief after a tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the Quad collapsed after Australia withdrew in 2007. It was reformed in 2017 and has expanded into military, economic and other areas of cooperation, driven in part by concerns about China’s rise.
Since its revival, Japan, the U.S. and Australia have been the most enthusiastic partners, while India has been generally hesitant to openly embrace the group in deference to China, its biggest trading partner.
However, after a deadly June 15 confrontation between Indian and Chinese troops along their disputed mountainous border in the Himalayas, relations between New Delhi and Beijing have sharply deteriorated. The clash resulted in the death of 20 Indian soldiers. India said Chinese troops also suffered casualties, but Beijing hasn’t confirmed that.
Days after the incident, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government moved to ban dozens of Chinese apps, including the widely used TikTok and
India also barred state-run telecommunications companies from purchasing equipment from Chinese companies such as
and Huawei Technologies Co. for future 4G mobile networks. Private telecom operators have been informally warned not to work with Chinese companies in the planned rollout of new 5G networks.
“The value of the Quad used to be more like a tactical bargaining chip for India in the past, to convey to China that if it did not respect India’s national security red lines, India could enter into an alliance-like formation to counterbalance China. Now, all that signaling business is over,” said Sreeram Chaulia, dean at O.P. Jindal Global University’s School of International Affairs in Sonipat, India.
In recent months India has held separate naval exercises with the U.S., Japan and Australia. An indication of the closeness of four-nation coordination will come if India invites Australia to the annual Malabar naval drills held with the U.S. and Japan, expected later this year.
Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said the Quad ministers agreed to meet every year. He said the group would welcome other countries to join.
—Will Mauldin in Washington contributed to this article.
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