US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will hold talks on Tuesday with counterparts from Australia, India and Japan in Tokyo, seeking to present a united front against China.
Pompeo’s trip comes despite the coronavirus crisis gripping Washington, which has seen President Donald Trump and a raft of his closest staff and advisors test positive for Covid-19.
Given the crisis, Pompeo opted to scrap two additional stops, in South Korea and Mongolia, that were originally part of his Asia trip.
But the meeting of the so-called Quad remains on his agenda, with Pompeo telling reporters before he departed the US that it was a “something we’ve been working on for a long time to put together.”
“Looking forward to discussing increased cooperation to promote our shared vision for a free and open #IndoPacific, composed of nations that are independent, strong, and prosperous,” he tweeted on departure.
Pompeo told reporters in the US that he expected “some significant announcements, some significant achievements” from the talks with Japan’s Toshimitsu Motegi, Australia’s Marise Payne and India’s Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.
But he added these would not be announced in Tokyo, and only after the ministers had returned home to consult “our leaders to make sure we all have it right.”
The Quad grouping was heavily promoted by former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe as a bid by the region’s major democracies to step up cooperation in the face of an increasingly assertive China.
Pompeo’s visit is the first by a top US official since Abe’s successor Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga took office last month.
Suga faces a delicate balancing act, seeking on the one hand to continue Tokyo’s gradual improvement of ties with Beijing, while also backing allies Washington, New Delhi and Canbera, all currently locked in rows with China.
He told reporters on Monday he would seek to “promote a free and open Indo-Pacific” but also “build stable relations with neighbouring countries including China and Russia.”
A Japanese diplomat briefing media ahead of the meetings said the ministers would discuss issues including coronavirus measures, maritime security and cyber security.
“The vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific has gained increasing significance in the post-coronavirus world,” the diplomat said.
“At this foreign ministers’ meeting, we expect the participants to confirm their enhanced coordination to realise that vision and to further broaden coordination with more countries.”
Still little in the way of substantive outcomes is expected, with no joint statement or press conference on the agenda.
The first Quad meeting took place in New York last year, and there are moves to make the gathering an annual event.
Pompeo will also meet with Suga during the day on Tuesday, heading back to Washington in the late evening.