Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that China’s increasingly aggressive actions on the world stage must be countered by deeper coordination among the pro-democracy forces of the “Quad” — an informal strategic grouping of the U.S., Australia, Japan and India.
Despite signs of a global opinion shift against China in the COVID-19 era, Indian, Japanese and Australian officials were less than eager to frame the Quad as the kernel of a new formal alliance aimed at containing China, with foreign ministers from the three making no public reference to Beijing during a top-level meeting Tuesday in Tokyo.
Mr. Pompeo insisted U.S. allies share Washington’s growing determination to confront and contain Beijing, but there was no joint statement or press conference after the talks concluded.
“As partners in this Quad, it is more critical now than ever that we collaborate to protect our people and partners from the [Chinese] exploitation, corruption and coercion,” Mr. Pompeo said in Tokyo, where he and top diplomats from the other three nations gathered for in-person talks.
The U.S. case got a boost from a new 14-country Pew Research Center Survey that found a majority in the countries surveyed — including the U.S., Australia, Germany, South Korea and others — now have an unfavorable opinion of China.
In several countries, the negative views have reached their highest point since Pew began polling on the topic more than a decade ago, with China’s widely criticized handling of the outbreak of COVID-19 on its soil at least partly to blame.
Mr. Pompeo argued Tuesday that the “landscape was very different” when the Quad met last year. “We couldn’t have imagined the pandemic that came from Wuhan,” he said. “That crisis was made infinitely worse by the Chinese Communist Party’s cover-up.”
Tuesday’s talks coincide with rising U.S.-China tension over the coronavirus, trade, technology, Hong Kong, Taiwan and human rights. They also follow a recent bloody border clash between China and India, and rising tensions in both Australia and Japan over China’s recent assertiveness in the region.
China has denied allegations of covering up the COVID pandemic, saying it acted quickly to provide information to the World Health Organization and the world.
China’s state-controlled Global Times, said to have close ties to the ruling Communist Party,noted the reluctance of other Quad ministers to echo Mr. Pompeo’s sharp anti-Beijing rhetoric. An op-ed piece in the online news site was headlined “All U.S. bark and no bite in Quad meeting” and described the outcome as “evidence of the U.S.’s relatively declining leadership.”
Earlier Tuesday, new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” security and economic initiative is more important than ever amid challenges from the coronavirus pandemic. But he stopped short of directly criticizing China.
While resistant to some multilateral institutions, the Trump administration has embraced the Quad as part of its 2017 Indo-Pacific strategy, with some officials suggesting it’s ripe for expansion given China’s increasingly aggressive military and economic policies.
Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E. Biegun recently suggested the Quad could be the beginning of a NATO-style alliance in Asia.
“It’s something that I think in the second term of the Trump administration or, were the president not to win, the first term of the next president, it could be something that would be very much worthwhile to be explored,” Mr. Biegun said at a U.S.-India strategic dialogue on Aug. 31.
Mr. Pompeo seconded that idea in an interview with Japanese reporters Tuesday.
“Once we’ve institutionalized what we’re doing,” Mr. Pompeo told the Nikkei Asian Review, “the four of us together can begin to build out a true security framework.”
Other region countries, he added, could become a part of the framework at the “appropriate time.”
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