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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Photo: Reuters

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discusses China-related issues with fellow ‘Quad’ diplomats

  • South China Sea tensions are a topic as foreign ministers from Australia, India and Japan hold a virtual meeting with their US counterpart
  • The Biden administration has emphasised that its dealings with China should be in close coordination with US allies

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a virtual meeting on Thursday with his counterparts from Australia, India and Japan, a group of Pacific allies known as “the Quad” that Washington sees as a vital countering force against an increasingly assertive Beijing.

Blinken and the other diplomats – Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar – discussed a range of global issues, a call readout from the Japanese foreign ministry said, including tensions in the South China Sea.

“Foreign Minister Motegi expressed serious concern with regard to the China’s Coast Guard Law,” the readout said, referring to a new Chinese law that lets its coastguard ships fire on foreign vessels and demolish structures built in disputed waters.

“The four ministers concurred to strongly oppose unilateral and forceful attempts to change the status quo in the context of the East and South China Sea,” it said.


US-China confrontation would be ‘disaster’, Xi says in first phone call with Biden

US-China confrontation would be ‘disaster’, Xi says in first phone call with Biden

The call comes as US-China tensions remain high in the early weeks of the new Biden administration. President Joe Biden and his team of advisers have made clear that they see China as a challenge to US interests.

China has also antagonised the other Quad nations through trade disputes, border skirmishes and a clash over the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Biden administration has emphasised that it wants its dealings with China to be in close coordination with American allies.

The State Department readout did not mention China by name, but said the four diplomats all wanted to see a “free and open Indo-Pacific region, including support for freedom of navigation and territorial integrity”.

Could a US-led Quad add up to an Asian Nato against China?

The State Department did not respond to an inquiry about the omission of China on its call readout, though President Biden has already spoken out against Chinese government policies this week.

On Tuesday, less than a week after his first phone call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Biden told a CNN town hall that there would be “repercussions” for Beijing’s treatment of ethnic minority groups in the country’s northwest region.

He said that the US would “reassert our role as spokespersons for human rights at the UN and other agencies that have an impact on [China’s] attitude”.

(From left) Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne meet at a Quad ministerial meeting in Tokyo in October. Photo: Reuters

On Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration wanted to approach China “from a position of strength”.

And on Thursday, Psaki said that Biden would address Friday’s virtual G7 summit, hosted by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and among the areas he plans to discuss are economic challenges posed by China.

Blinken and the other Quad diplomats also discussed climate change, North Korea and the coup in Myanmar, according to the Japanese foreign ministry’s readout of the call.

“They also welcomed proactive efforts by other countries including those in Europe toward a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’,” it said.

Blinken also met virtually on Thursday with his counterparts from France, Germany and Britain – a group known as the “E3”.

A joint statement from Blinken and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said they had “agreed to closely coordinate to address the global challenges posed by China, as well as the need for cooperation across a range of issues, including climate change”.

They also said they wanted to continue their “consultations and coordination, including with China and Russia” on the issue of Iran‘s nuclear weapons programme.