SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s foreign minister said she will travel to Japan to meet counterparts from the “Quad” group of the United States, India and Japan next week to discuss regional security, economic recovery, disinformation and supply chains.
The high-level meeting will be closely watched by China, which warned on Tuesday against “exclusive cliques” that target third-parties.
The meeting in Tokyo on October 6 is the first standalone meeting of the Quad ministers, after an inaugural meeting a year ago in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations.
“This will be another important step forward for this grouping of Indo-Pacific democracies,” Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said in a statement confirming her travel.
“We will discuss strengthening cooperation to support regional responses to the health and economic dimensions of COVID-19, including on vaccines, supply chains and quality infrastructure investment.”
China is expected to be discussed in the meeting, which is not a formal alliance but a network to share perspectives on stability in the region.
Payne said the meeting comes “at an important time in the Indo-Pacific, when our shared interests are under unprecedented pressure, including as the region responds to COVID-19”.
Critical minerals will be discussed, as Australia seeks to create a market for its rare earths, which are a key component in global technology manufacturing, but currently dominated by supply from China.
Foreign ministers will issue individual statements at the end of the meeting, but won’t issue a joint communique.
The first quadrilateral dialogue of officials was held in 2007, followed by a joint naval exercise, but was abandoned the next year when Australia withdrew amid Chinese complaints the Quad was an attempt to contain China’s rise.
The group was revived in 2017 with official-level talks.
India, previously seen as cautious about the revival of the Quad, has this year been involved in border clashes with China. At least 20 Indian solders were killed while China suffered an unspecified number of casualties in a bloody hand-to-hand clash at the border in June.
Australia’s diplomatic relations with China worsened this year after Canberra led calls for an international inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic, and Beijing imposed trade sanctions on Australian beef and barley.
Payne said India, Japan and the United States were “vital Indo-Pacific partners” for Australia.
Payne, India’s foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are also expected to meet with new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
Indian media has speculated that India will invite Australia to participate in the annual Malabar naval exercises with Japan and the United States, but no invitation has yet been made.
Australia last joined Malabar in 2007.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)