China Looms Large as Blinken Heads to Australia, Fiji

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is heading to Australia next week for QUAD ministerial meetings to advance cooperation on issues including maritime security and cybersecurity, the State Department announced Friday. 

The Quad refers to a security dialogue involving Australia, India, Japan and the United States.  

Blinken’s visit to Australia February 9-12 would be his first trip to the country after an enhanced trilateral security partnership known as AUKUS (Australia, U.K., and the U.S.) was signed last September. The agreement includes a deal to build nuclear-propelled submarines for Australia—not a G-7 member—as part of enhanced deterrence against China’s military expansion across the Indo-Pacific region.

“Secretary Blinken will meet with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs Hayashi Yoshimasa, Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, and other senior officials to discuss a range of bilateral and global priorities,” said the State Department in a statement released Friday. 

China has 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.

The top U.S. diplomat’s weeklong trip also includes Fiji and Honolulu.

In Fiji, Blinken will meet with Pacific Island leaders to discuss the climate crisis and ways to further “shared commitment to democracy, regional solidarity, and prosperity in the Pacific.”  This will be the first visit by a U.S. secretary of state to Fiji since1985. 

Addressing the threat from North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs is high on the agenda, as Blinken hosts Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi and Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong for a U.S.-Japan-Republic of Korea Trilateral Ministerial Meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii on February 12.

In January, North Korea conducted several launches, firing ballistic missiles.

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