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Pompeo says U.S. and "Quad" partners must answer China's rise, "for the soul of the world"

Tokyo — Senior diplomats from the U.S. and three of its major Asia-Pacific allies sat down in the Japanese capital on Tuesday, united in their determination to counter China's increasing assertiveness in the region. 

Representatives of Japan, Australia, India and U.S. meet in Tokyo
Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Japan's Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pose for a picture prior the Quad ministerial meeting in Tokyo, Japan, October 6, 2020. Kiyoshi Ota/Pool/REUTERS

The four nations of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or the Quad as it's more commonly known, are the U.S., Japan, Australia and India. The members have met sporadically since forming the informal alliance in 2007, but on Tuesday, they agreed to meet annually going forward.

Each has had its own points of contention with Beijing, from almost-daily naval operations by Chinese ships near territory claimed by Japan in the East China Sea; a deadly border standoff between India and China; and Australia's call for an investigation into the cause of the COVID-19 outbreak in China. 

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted on Japanese television that the "Quad" group was not just about "a rivalry between the United States and China."

"This is for the soul of the world," he said, "whether this will be a world that operates (as) a rules-based international order system, or one that's dominated by a coercive totalitarian regime like the one in China."

The other Quad members declined to adopt Washington's hardline stance towards the world's second-largest economy, however. China remains an indispensable trading partner for Japan, Australia and India, and arguably the U.S., too. 

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne pointedly sidestepped shaming Beijing by name, saying: "Whether it is individual human rights, market-based economies, countering disinformation or building greater resilience into our supply chains, our common values and interests mean we share a vision for a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific."

Japan's new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was also circumspect, telling reporters earlier this week that, "the world is possibly becoming even more unpredictable and uncontrollable due to heightening selfish nationalism and growing tension between the U.S. and China."

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Suga vowed to promote the Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy (FOIP), with the Japan-U.S. alliance as a cornerstone, while also cementing relations with China and Russia. FOIP was a key initiative of Suga's predecessor, Shinzo Abe, seen as vital for protecting Japan's shipping lanes. 

The Quad gathering marked a diplomatic debut for Suga, who lacks experience in foreign affairs. 

Experts have poured cold water on the prospect of the Quad becoming a collective security organization like NATO in Europe, largely over concerns in the Asia-Pacific region about antagonizing China. 

Pompeo was originally scheduled to also visit Mongolia and South Korea on this trip, but he decided to cut his itinerary short after President Trump contracted the coronavirus.

He arrived Monday at Yokota Air Base outside central Tokyo for a single day of meetings, and then departed Tuesday evening after they wrapped up. 

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