TOKYO -- Foreign ministers from the Quad nations -- the US, Japan, India and Australia -- gathered here Tuesday for their first in-person talks in over a year and agreed to hold regular meetings.
The four countries' top diplomats, who last met in September 2019 in New York, will seek to meet once a year.
The Tokyo talks came during a shortened visit to Asia by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who told Nikkei he wants to wants to formalize and potentially broaden the quadrilateral security dialogue.
"As partners in this Quad, it is more critical now than ever that we collaborate to protect our people and partners from the CCP's exploitation, corruption and coercion," Pompeo said in remarks before the meeting, accusing China's Communist Party of a cover-up that worsened the coronavirus pandemic.
Pompeo called the Indo-Pacific vision a shared goal. He touched on the issues surrounding the South China Sea, the East China Sea and cross-strait relations between Taiwan and mainland China.
The Quad was formed as the core of an envisioned network of economic and security cooperation in the region, with an eye toward a rising China.
"The four countries share the goal of strengthening the free and open international order" grounded on basic values and rules such as democracy and the rule of law, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne called the meeting an "important step in the continuing evolution of the Quad," adding that Canberra has no partners more important than Tokyo, Washington and New Delhi in its engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.
Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said the world "is significantly different today than what it was when we met last year in New York in September."
"Now, the events of this year have clearly demonstrated how imperative it is for like-minded countries to coordinate responses to various challenges that the pandemic has brought to the fore," Jaishankar added.
Distrust of China has been growing in all four countries due to Beijing's initial response to the coronavirus pandemic and its crackdown on Hong Kong.
The quartet has been cooperating more closely on security matters. Japan and India signed an agreement last month allowing them to share military supplies and logistical support, and India and Australia inked a similar deal in June. Australia has expressed interest in joining this year's Malabar joint naval exercise, an annual event held by the U.S., India and Japan.
Washington continues to clash with Beijing over trade and security. While Canberra has taken pains to maintain balanced trade and security relationships, the coronavirus pandemic has stoked anti-China sentiment there. New Delhi's relations with Beijing have deteriorated amid the reigniting of a border conflict in the Himalayas.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga affirmed his intention to carry on Japan's push for a "free and open Indo-Pacific" at a meeting here Tuesday with the top diplomats of the U.S., India and Australia.
The Indo-Pacific concept "is a vision of regional peace and prosperity that has become widely recognized throughout the international community," said Suga. "My government's basic policy is to make sure we move forward with it."
The gathering of Quad ministers marked Suga's first face-to-face meeting with cabinet-level foreign officials since taking office. The new prime minister will visit Vietnam and Indonesia this month in his first official trip abroad.