US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday met with his counterparts from Australia, India and Japan in Tokyo to discuss how to confront China.
The “Quartet meeting” comes as the four nations seek to form a front against an increasingly assertive China.
Before leaving the United States, Mr. Pompeo said the meeting was “something we’ve been working on for a long time.”
Bilateral relations between the United States and China fell in recent months to their lowest level in decades.
This has led to Washington strengthening cooperation with regional allies.
The Quartet – represented by Japan’s Toshimitsu Motegi, Australia’s Marys Payne and India’s Subramaniam Jaishankar – is expected to discuss issues including the coronavirus pandemic and cybersecurity.
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Mr. Pompeo tweeted on departure: “We look forward to discussing increased cooperation to advance our shared vision for a free and open #IndoPacific, made up of independent, strong and prosperous nations.”
China had warned before the meeting about “exclusive groups” targeting third parties.
“We hope that the countries concerned will proceed from the common interests of the countries of the region and do more things that are conducive to peace, stability and development in the region, not the other way around,” said Wang Wenbin, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman.
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The Quartet – informally called the Quartet – first began in May 2007 with a meeting between the United States, Japan, India and Australia in the Philippine capital, Manila.
Analysts saw the informal gathering, which was championed by then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as an attempt to intensify cooperation in the face of a rapidly rising China.
But when Beijing sent formal protests over the Quartet, its members said their “strategic partnership” was aimed only at maintaining regional security and was not targeting any specific country.
Then the Quartet lost its momentum and was revived again only a few years ago.
Why do they meet now?
This latest meeting comes at a time when the United States, India and Australia have witnessed increasing tensions in their relations with China.
Since 2018, the United States and China have been locked in a bitter trade war, and in recent months they have clashed over several issues including spy arrests, the coronavirus pandemic, and the revocation of Chinese student visas.
Australia’s relations with China also deteriorated.
In September, the last two reporters working in China for Australian media were evacuated after a tense five-day diplomatic standoff.
There were also growing tensions between Beijing and Delhi along their disputed borders in the Himalayas. The fighting in June marked the first bloody confrontation between the two sides since 1975.
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Alexander Neil, a Singapore-based Asia Pacific security analyst, believes the “real watershed” of the Quartet’s renewed momentum is due to “India’s buy-in.”
“In recent years there has been a lot of speculation about the Quartet becoming an official body. But India in particular has been tied, and it’s a traditional supporter of the Non-Aligned Movement,” he said.
He added that the United States, on the other hand, was “very consistent” with its messages under President Donald Trump.
She said, “China’s coercive measures will not only lead to its self-isolation, but will push like-minded friends and allies to unite together. The Quartet is a manifestation of that.”
Neil expects Beijing to accuse the United States of “the mentality of containment and the cold war” and of building alliances “to suppress the legitimate rise of China.”
New Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is believed to be facing a more delicate balancing act. Tokyo has seen steady improvement in relations with Beijing while also maintaining close ties with the United States, India, and Australia.
Suga told reporters on Monday that he would seek to “promote the freedom and openness of the Indian and Pacific Oceans” as well as “build stable relations with neighboring countries, including China and Russia.”
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