Japan will host a meeting next week of the foreign ministers of four of the Indo-Pacific region’s biggest democracies, in the so-called Quad group seen as a counter to China’s influence in the region.
The Oct. 6 forum in Tokyo will bring together Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and India’s Subrahmanyam Jaishankar to discuss issues including the coronavirus pandemic and the regional situation, Motegi told a news conference Tuesday.
The meeting is set to be one of the highest-profile diplomatic gatherings for the Trump administration before the U.S. presidential election, where policy toward Beijing has become a major campaign issue. It also comes as China and India try to defuse tensions on their disputed Himalayan border, after a military standoff led to gunshots being fired over the frontier for the first time since 1975.
"It is timely that foreign ministers of the four nations who share the same ambitions over regional matters exchange views over various challenges," Motegi told a news conference.
"'The Free and Open Indo-Pacific' vision is increasingly important in the post COVID-19 world so we would like to confirm the importance of further deepening the collaboration among us and many other countries to realize the vision,” he said, adding he intends to hold bilateral talks with each of his counterparts.
The meeting will also be the biggest diplomatic event for the government of new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday by telephone and agreed to work closely on issues.
Suga, who took office Sept. 16 in the country's first leadership change in nearly eight years, also plans to meet Pompeo on the sidelines of the four-sided meeting, sources close to the matter said Monday.
One of his most challenging tasks for Suga, who has little diplomatic experience, will be seeking a delicate balance between Japan’s biggest trading partner, China, and its only military ally, the U.S. In recent months, the world’s two largest economies have clashed over everything from trade to data security.
India and China are also at loggerheads over a disputed border region in the Himalayas, which led to a deadly clash in June. Relations between Australia and China have also worsened after Canberra in April called for an independent inquiry into the origins of the new coronavirus pandemic. The two countries have also been at odds over tariffs and human rights.
Tokyo, meanwhile, is concerned about Beijing's territorial claims over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, called Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea. But it is also looking at maintaining economic ties with its biggest trading partner.
The Quad held its first formal ministerial-level gathering about a year ago in New York, which was seen as a sign of growing unease over Xi’s more assertive foreign policy. The elevation last year of the discussion from official-level talks suggests the previously informal framework was being strengthened to improve intelligence-gathering and present a united front on regional security issues.
China has made clear its opposition to the Quad’s "Indo-Pacific strategy.” In March 2018, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the bloc was a "headline-grabbing idea.” Wang may visit Japan as early as October to meet Motegi, public broadcaster NHK reported over the weekend, without giving a date.
The upcoming Quad meeting comes as the trade ministers of Japan, India and Australia agreed this month to work toward achieving supply chain resilience in the Indo-Pacific region, following reports that the three nations are looking to work together to counter China’s dominance on trade.