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Blinken Touts US Focus on Pacific

United States' Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet with Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne as well as their Indian and Japanese counterparts who form the so-called "Quad." (William West/Pool Photo via AP)

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken highlighted the Biden administration’s focus on the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions as he traveled to Australia, saying talks with a group that includes the United States, Australia, Japan and India involve work that is important to “people throughout the region and around the world.”

Blinken spoke to reporters traveling with him as he prepared for the meeting of the so-called Quad countries.

“The Quad is becoming a powerful mechanism for delivering, helping to vaccinate a big part of the world, getting a lot of vaccines out there, strengthening maritime security to push back against aggression and coercion in the Indo-Pacific region, working together on emerging technologies and making sure that they can be used in positive ways, not negative ways, and an increasingly broad and deep agenda,” Blinken said.

He said the work among the four nations is similar to efforts supported by the United States in other parts of the world “building, energizing, driving different coalitions of countries focused on sometimes overlapping issues.” Blinken said those groupings allow countries to use their particular strengths to focus on important matters such as climate change, COVID-19 and emerging technologies.

Blinken’s visit to Australia is his first trip there after an enhanced trilateral security partnership known as AUKUS — Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States — was announced last September. The agreement includes a deal to build nuclear-propelled submarines for Australia as part of enhanced deterrence against China’s military expansion across the Indo-Pacific region.

Part of the discussions during the fourth Quad foreign ministers’ meetings in Melbourne “will relate to the challenges that China poses,” Daniel Kritenbrink, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told VOA during a Friday phone briefing.

“The Quad is not a military alliance, but it is not lost on China that you have four democracies, all with a strong maritime presence and advanced military capabilities, concerned by the increasingly aggressive approach China takes with its neighbors,” said Charles Edel, the Australia chair of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In Beijing, Chinese officials have expressed wariness over the Quad and AUKUS. A spokesperson from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zhao Lijian, said any regional cooperation framework “should not target any third party” when U.S. President Joe Biden hosted a Quad leaders’ summit last September. Zhao also called the AUKUS pact “extremely irresponsible.”

The top U.S. diplomat’s weeklong trip includes Fiji as well as Honolulu, Hawaii.

VOA’s Chris Hannas contributed to the report.