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The U.S. government hopes to “institutionalize” the so-called Quad grouping that also involves Australia, India and Japan, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday, emphasizing that the currently informal dialogue is aimed at countering China’s clout in the region.

“We have begun to build out a set of relationships all throughout Asia that are enabling us to challenge the Chinese Communist Party. … And one of the tools that we use is this set of relationships with four powerful democracies,” Pompeo told a radio talk show host.

The interview took place after Pompeo traveled to Japan where he attended a Quad meeting on Tuesday, the second such gathering of the four countries’ foreign ministers following the first in New York in September last year.

According to the U.S. State Department, the Quad is an informal grouping of like-minded partners formed to deepen cooperation and to shape a more closely aligned Indo-Pacific region.

Pompeo said the ministers who gathered in Tokyo “all came to understand this shared threat and the opportunity for us to work together” not just diplomatically, but on the economic front to partner to fight back against Beijing.

“And this Quad format, this capacity for those four powerful economies, big nations, democracies to work together to push back against the Chinese Communist Party is something that I hope that we here at the State Department can institutionalize in a way that provides powerful protection for the American people for decades to come,” he added.

According to the Japanese Foreign Ministry, the Quad ministers on Tuesday agreed to work toward a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” such as by deepening cooperation in maritime security, counterterrorism, cybersecurity and disaster relief, among other issues.

They also agreed to regularize the foreign ministerial meeting and to hold the next one at an appropriate timing next year.

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