TOKYO: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday (Oct 6) began meetings with his Asian and Indo-Pacific counterparts as Washington looks to solidify support among the regional allies at a time of historically tense ties with China.
The trip, his first to East Asia since July 2019, has been scaled back to one full day in Japan, after US President Donald Trump was diagnosed with coronavirus, scrapping plans to go to Mongolia and South Korea.
Trump has returned to the White House after a three-night hospital stay to be treated for the virus.
Pompeo's trip comes at a time when Washington and Beijing, the world's top two economies, are at loggerheads over a wide range of issues from Beijing's handling of the coronavirus to its imposition of a new security law in Hong Kong and ambitions in the South China Sea.
Washington greatly values the meeting of the Quad grouping of foreign ministers, from the United States, Japan, Australia and India, as a platform to strengthen its solidarity against China with regional allies.
"We’re hoping to have some significant announcements, significant achievements," Pompeo told reporters at Joint Base Andrews in the United States before departing for Tokyo, but he declined to say what they would be.
"The timing of this is important, and I’m glad we’re able to put it all together and make it happen this week."
China has denounced the Quad as an attempt to contain its development. While the Quad meeting may not yield a specific action plan, the very fact of its gathering would serve as a warning to China and play to its fears that it might one day grow into a formalised grouping as NATO, experts have said.
Indian foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said the foreign ministers are likely to emphasise their support for a free and open Indo-Pacific region at the meeting.
In his first meeting of the day, Pompeo met with Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne at the US Ambassador's Residence in Tokyo. The duo posed in front of their respective flags sporting face masks and with no handshake.
Later on Tuesday, Pompeo is expected to meet with Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga for the first time since Suga took office. The Japanese leader faces a tricky task balancing the need to maintain working ties with Japan's bigger neighbour China and US demands for a tougher stance.
Most Asian allies have been pleased with Washington's toughness toward their regional rival China, but have not so eagerly welcomed Trump and Pompeo's highly charged recent rhetoric and remain wary of going too far in antagonising China.