US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Japanese and South Korean counterparts declared their unity on Saturday in the face of Asia-Pacific security threats, even as Washington was intensely occupied with the possibility of war in Eastern Europe. .
Blinken, South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong and Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa met in Honolulu for a day of discussions focusing on the North Korean nuclear threat as well as the Chinese challenge.
Washington organized the meeting as the third stop in a round of pan-Pacific diplomacy intended to reaffirm the intermittent US “pivot” to Asia in politics and security.
Blinken first attended a meeting of the Quad in Melbourne, the alliance of Australia, Japan, India and the United States aimed at blunting Beijing’s expansive military policy in the Asia-Pacific.
The top US envoy then traveled to Fiji for a virtual meeting of representatives from 17 Pacific island countries who are also familiar with China’s economic, political and military ambitions.
US officials said the trip was intended to assure countries in the region that Washington is still deeply attentive to their issues.
During the week-long trip, the White House released its strategy for what it dubbed the “Indo-Pacific region,” an 18-page document that outlines the region’s central role in American politics.
“This strategy reflects the fundamental truth that more than any other part of the world, what happens in this region will shape the lives of Americans and people around the world,” Blinken said Saturday in Honolulu to close the week.
Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine
At each stop, however, the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine captured almost all of Washington’s attention and raised concerns among its counterparts.
Blinken spent much of his travel time liaising with his allies and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, over the crisis.
And at each press conference, meant to show US dedication to Asia-Pacific affairs, attention has instead been on Blinken’s statement that Russia could attack Ukraine within days. .
The rise of the quad
Still, Blinken’s message was well received.
In Melbourne, four Quad nations sought to deepen their alliance, extending it from Malabar’s original naval drills and COVID vaccine distribution to other areas including climate change, cybersecurity, infrastructure and relief. in the event of a disaster.
They have also stressed in repeated statements that they are ready to work with ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, at the very center of China’s advance.
In Fiji, Blinken said the United States was ready to spend more money to support the Pacific Islands and announced the restoration of a US embassy in the Solomon Islands, where China is now involved in politics and culture. local security.
The United States closed its embassy in the Solomons in 1993, and its reopening would serve as a statement that America will pay more attention to the often overlooked region.
The stopover in the Pacific Islands, said Jonathan Pryke of Australia’s Lowy Institute, is “a reflection of the fact that the United States simply does not have a significant presence in the Pacific”.
“The United States is clearly concerned about China’s growing presence in the region,” he said, calling Blinken’s visit “quite significant.”
The possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine also filtered through the tripartite talks in Honolulu.
The war would cause economic disruption that could reach Asia. Japan has already been asked to allow some of its LNG supplies to be diverted to Europe in case Russian natural gas to Europe is cut off.
But Japan and South Korea want Washington to do more to bring North Korea’s Kim Jong-un to the table, after his recent seven ballistic missile test launches.
Blinken said Kim was in “a provocative phase.”
“I want to emphasize that we have no hostile intentions towards the DPRK. We remain open to dialogue without preconditions,” he said.