US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on key Asian allies to unite against China's “exploitation, corruption and coercion” in the region, as he held talks on Tuesday in Tokyo.
Pompeo was speaking at the start of discussions with his Japanese, Indian and Australian counterparts – the so-called Quad grouping, seeking to present a united front against an increasingly assertive Beijing.
But it was the top US diplomat who took the hardest line on China, referring to the pandemic that came from Wuhan, which he said was ”made infinitely worse by the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) cover-up.
He warned it was more critical now than ever that we collaborate to protect our people and partners from the CCP's exploitation, corruption and coercion, citing China's actions in the Himalayas, Taiwan Strait and elsewhere.
This rhetoric was not fully echoed by Washington's partners in the grouping, although Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne pointedly spoke of the desire for a region governed by rules, not power.
The talks come with Washington, Sydney and New Delhi all at loggerheads with Beijing.
Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar noted the fact that the meeting was happening at all, given the coronavirus pandemic, was testimony to the importance of the alliance.
But Japan, under the leadership of new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, is seeking to balance the need to support its allies with its desire to continue gradually improving ties with China.
Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi notably did not mention China in his remarks, and the government has said the talks are not directed at any one country.
Lately, the present international order has been challenged in various fields and the new coronavirus is accelerating the trend, Motegi said at the start of the meeting.
Our four countries share the objective of strengthening a free and open, rule-based international order.”