Virtual regional summit overshadowed by escalating US-China tensions as well as the coronavirus pandemic.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday began meetings in Tokyo with his counterparts from Australia, India and Japan, as Washington looks to solidify support among regional allies as its relationship with China deteriorates.
The trip, his first to the region since July 2019, was reduced to a single full day in Japan, after US President Donald Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19. Pompeo had previously planned to go to Mongolia and South Korea as well.
Pompeo’s trip comes at a time when Washington and Beijing, the world’s top two economies, are at loggerheads over a wide range of issues from Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus to its imposition of a new security law in Hong Kong and ambitions in the South China Sea.
Washington sees the meeting of the so-called Quad grouping of foreign ministers as a platform to strengthen its position with regional allies.
“We’re hoping to have some significant announcements, significant achievements,” Pompeo told reporters at Joint Base Andrews in the United States before leaving for Tokyo, but he declined to say what they would be.
“The timing of this is important, and I’m glad we’re able to put it all together and make it happen this week.”
China has condemned the Quad as an attempt to contain its development.
While the meeting may not yield a specific action plan, the Quad could yet grow into a more formalised grouping, experts have said.
Indian foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said the foreign ministers were likely to emphasise their support for a free and open Indo-Pacific region at the meeting.
In his first meeting of the day, Pompeo met Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne at the US Ambassador’s Residence in Tokyo. The duo posed in front of their respective flags sporting face masks and did not shake hands.
He was also expected to hold separate talks with India’s Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Japan’s Toshimitsu Motegi, before the four foreign ministers met as a group.
Later on Tuesday, Pompeo is expected to meet Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who took office last month.
Ahead of his meeting with Suga, Pompeo praised the new Japanese prime minister as a “force for good.”
The Japanese leader faces a tricky task balancing the need to maintain working ties with China and US demands for a tougher stance.
Most Asian allies have been pleased with Washington’s toughness towards their regional rival, but have not so eagerly welcomed Trump and Pompeo’s highly charged recent rhetoric and remain wary of going too far in antagonising China.