US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Melbourne on Friday to start talks with the foreign ministers of Australia, India and Japan, an informal grouping known as the “Quad,” which was formed to counter China’s regional influence in the Indo-Pacific.
Ahead of the meeting, Blinken said the Quad members “share concerns” that “China has been acting more aggressively at home and more aggressively in the region and indeed potentially beyond.”
However, Blinken said conflict with China was not “inevitable,” emphasizing that the Quad partners are united by an “affirmative vision for what the future can bring” and a “commitment to defend the rules-based system that we have spent tremendous time and effort building.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also sat down with the foreign ministers ahead of their talks. In a thinly veiled reference to his country’s rocky relationship with China, Morrison said, “we live in a very fragile, fragmented and contested world … we stand up to those who would seek to coerce us.”
He added it was a “great comfort” that the three fellow Quad members understand “the coercion and the pressure that Australia has been placed under.”
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, who is chairing the Quad meeting, said the diplomats will also discuss COVID-19 vaccine distribution, cooperation on critical technologies, countering disinformation and climate change.
Payne said the group will work toward strengthening cooperation on cyberterrorism and counterterrorism, including ransomware attacks. The Quad has also agreed to boost maritime support for the region in order to ensure freedom of navigation, combat illegal fishing and develop offshore resources, she added.
Australia’s feud with Beijing
Over the past two years, Australia has seen a rapid deterioration of relations with China, with Beijing slapping tariffs on Australian goods in response to several moves by Canberra, including banning Huawei tech from infrastructure and demanding a probe into the origins of COVID-19.
China’s expansion of military capabilities in the South China Sea has also been seen as a major security risk for Australia.
On Thursday, Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton told Parliament that Australia was facing the “most complex and potentially catastrophic regional security environment” since World War II.
China has denounced the Quad as a “Cold War” construct, referring to the group as a clique “targeting other countries.”
see/wmr (AP, Reuters, AFP)