US blasts China’s ‘exploitation and coercion’ in meeting with Indo-Pacific allies

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Mr Pompeo’s first visit to East Asia in more than a year comes amid worsening tensions with China but his call for a united front against Beijing is a sensitive subject for nations which are rely on the continent’s powerhouse for trade. In comments before the start of a meeting of the Quad grouping of the US, Japanese, Indian and Australian foreign ministers, Mr Pompeo spoke in typically unsparing terms against Beijing’s ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

It is more critical now than ever that we protect our people from exploitation, corruption and coercion

Mike Pompeo

He said: “As partners in this Quad, it is more critical now than ever that we collaborate to protect our people and partners from the CCP’s exploitation, corruption and coercion.

“We see it in the South and East China Seas, the Mekong, the Himalayas, the Taiwan Strait.”

China has denounced the Quad as an attempt to contain its development after the four nations in the grouping stated their support for a free and open Indo-Pacific.

In an interview with Japan’s Nikkei newspaper, Mr Pompeo spoke of formalising and potentially broadening the Quad grouping.

He said: “Once we’ve institutionalised what we’re doing – the four of us together – we can begin to build out a true security framework.”

He suggested other countries could be added to that “fabric” at “the appropriate time”.

Mr Pompeo said it was important the “shared picture” of the challenge was shared with other Southeast Asian countries.

Analysts said they doubted such a formalised grouping would take shape given the need for countries in the region to balance their relationships with China but said Mr Pompeo’s remarks served as a warning to Beijing and played to its fears the Quad might one day take shape as NATO did in Europe to contain the Soviet Union.

Mr Pompeo’s visit was supposed to include trips to Mongolia and South Korea but was cut back to one day after US President Donald Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19.

The top US diplomat also reiterated the Trump administration’s criticism of China’s handling of COVID-19 after it first broke out in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

He said: “When we met last year, the landscape was very different.

“We couldn’t have imagined a pandemic that came from Wuhan. That crisis was made infinitely worse by the Chinese Communist Party’s cover-up.”

The US and China, the world’s two largest economies, remain locked in bitter dispute over a wide range of issues from Beijing’s handling of the pandemic to its imposition of a new security law in Hong Kong and ambitions in the South China Sea.

Most Asian allies have been pleased with Washington’s tough stance against China but have been unnerved by the highly-charged recent rhetoric from Mr Trump and Mr Pompeo and remain wary of going too far in antagonising China.

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said the four nations had confirmed they would advance with practical talks on infrastructure, cybersecurity and other areas.

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Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the strategic environment in the Indo-Pacific was becoming more complex, and pressure on the rules underpinning regional stability could undermine recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said: “We emphasised that, especially during a pandemic, it was vital that states work to ease tensions and avoid exacerbating long-standing disputes, work to counter disinformation and refrain from malicious cyberspace activity.

“Ministers reiterated that states cannot assert maritime claims that are inconsistent with international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

She said the meeting had agreed to strengthen cooperation with regional partners, including in the Mekong, and convene Quad ministerial meetings on a regular basis.

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