efe-epaBy Antonio Hermosin Gandul Tokyo

The Secretary of State of the United States and Foreign Ministers of Japan, Australia and India on Tuesday pledged to strengthen their cooperation to ensure stability in the Asia-Pacific in the face of China's growing influence in the region.

The head of foreign affairs of the four countries, together known as "Quad", at their meeting in Tokyo, decided to take a step further in cooperation initiative led by Japan and the US, seeking to strengthen their strategic position in the area against Beijing.

The foreign officials underlined the shared values of democracy, respect for international law and free trade, and expressed willingness to advance multilateral cooperation.

However, they did not announce any concrete steps in this regard and held different positions while referring to China.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was the only one who referred to China bluntly at the start of the meeting, stressing that the Quad's collaboration was "more critical now than ever that we collaborate to protect our people and partners from the CCP's (Communist Party of China's) exploitation, corruption and coercion."

Pompeo added that the coronavirus crisis "was made infinitely worse by the Chinese Communist Party's cover-up," and believed that the Quad would continue to take steps towards more concrete action.

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, on his part, emphasized that international order has been challenged by many fronts in recent years, and the trend has been accelerated due to the pandemic.

"Our four nations believe in common fundamental values such as democracy, rule of law and free economy. We believe in having a regional responsibility, share the goal of strengthening a rules-based free and open international order," said Motegi, adding that the main goal of the Quad was "strengthening a rules-based free and open international order."

The foreign ministry heads of Australia and India, Marise Payne and Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, respectively, stressed on the need to defend fundamental freedoms in the region and resolve disputes through international law rather than by force.

In recent years, Japan, Australia and India have faced numerous incidents or episodes of tension with China, although all of them have major trade ties with Beijing, making them more cautious in voicing criticism.

The "Quad", also known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, began to take shape between 2017 and 2019, when the four countries held five meetings, the last of which was in New York in September last year coinciding with the United Nations General Assembly.

Due to the lack of concrete measures and the allusions - although not always clear - towards China, the initiative is seen by many analysts as a warning sign to Beijing, which in turn has criticized the forum and called it a "mini-NATO".

Motegi on Tuesday left the door open for the involvement of other countries "that share values" and have shown interest in the initiative, citing several Southeast Asian countries, France and Germany.

This was the first diplomatic event hosted by Japan under the new government led by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who succeeded Shinzo Abe three weeks ago, and marked the first visit by Pompeo to the Far East since July 2019.

Moreover, it comes amid an extended confrontation between Beijing and Washington, as well as the political uncertainty in the US due to the impending presidential elections in November and the health of President Donald Trump, who recently tested positive for Covid-19.

The Tokyo meeting, in which ministers participated wearing masks and maintaining recommended physical distance, occurred as news came of Trump's return to the White House after being hospitalized for the coronavirus.

The Japanese foreign minister, addressing a press conference, said Pompeo had conveyed to them that Trump was stable and was recovering after being discharged from the hospital.

The secretary of state was initially scheduled to visit Japan for two days and also visit Mongolia and South Korea during the week. However, the plans were cut short after news broke out about Trump's infection.

Pompeo, who tested negative for Covid-19 before leaving from the US, was exempted from the mandatory quarantine for foreign nationals arriving in Japan, along with the foreign ministers of Australia and India, on the condition that they limit their movements to their accommodation and meeting venues. EFE-EPA

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