WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States wants a meeting soon aimed at reviving a four-way dialogue between itself, Japan, India and Australia to deepen security cooperation and coordinate alternatives for regional infrastructure financing to that offered by China, a senior U.S. official said on Friday.
The so-called “Quad” to discuss and cooperate on security emerged briefly as an initiative a decade ago - much to the annoyance of China, which saw as an attempt by regional democracies to contain its advances.
In an interview with Japan’s Nikkei newspaper on Wednesday, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono proposed reviving the forum, which he said he had discussed with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on the sidelines of a regional meeting in Manila in August.
According to the Nikkei, the purpose would be to secure a peaceful maritime zone from Asia to Africa. It said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would officially propose the dialogue partnership to U.S. President Donald Trump on Nov. 6, when the U.S. leader visits Japan as part of an Asian tour that will also take him to China.
Alice Wells, Washington’s acting assistant secretary of state for South Asia, told reporters after accompanying Tillerson on a visit to India that Washington was “looking at a working level quadrilateral meeting in the near term.”
“The quadrilateral the Japanese foreign minister discussed would be building on a very productive trilateral we have with India and Japan,” she said.
Wells said the idea was to bring together countries that share the same values “to reinforce those values in the global architecture.”
“As we explore ways to deepen and try to inculcate some of the values - freedom of navigation, maritime security, humanitarian assistance, disaster response, transparency, obviously Australia would be a natural partner in that effort.”
Wells rejected the idea the forum would be aimed at containing China, which has alarmed Asia-Pacific countries through its pursuit of territory in the South China Sea and has launched major initiatives to develop regional infrastructure.
She said it would seek to coordinate alternatives for nations seeking investment in infrastructure and economic development, “that don’t include predatory financing or unsustainable debt.”
“It’s hard to see a meeting of diplomats from four countries as a plan to contain China,” she said. “It’s a natural progression and convergence of interests between democratic countries in the Indo-Pacific region.”
Tillerson said before visiting India that Washington saw room to invite others, including Australia, to join U.S.-India-Japan security cooperation and to create alternatives to Chinese financing that was saddling countries with “enormous” debts and failing to create jobs.
Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama