U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to travel to Australia, Fiji, and Hawaii next week to demonstrate the United States’ commitment to the Indo-Pacific region, keeping the region in focus despite the mounting Russia-Ukraine crisis.
The State Department said Blinken will attend a Quad ministerial meeting in Australia from Feb. 9 to Feb. 12 for talks with Indo-Pacific allies—Australia, Japan, and India—to discuss maritime security, climate change, and the cooperation to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Blinken will have “several important bilateral meetings” with the Australian leadership, including Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa and Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, during his trip to Australia.
“It’s through this [Quad] partnership that we’re strengthening the security environment in the region to push back against aggression and coercion. And it will be through this partnership that we help support global economic recovery,” the State Department said.
Blinken will then proceed to Fiji to meet with Fijian Prime Minister Bainimarama and Pacific Island leaders to discuss regional cooperation. This will be the first visit by a Secretary of State to Fiji since 1985.
The U.S. top diplomat will conclude his trip in Hawaii, where he will host a trilateral meeting with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts to discuss global challenges and “the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
“The Secretary will demonstrate the strength and the credibility of America’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific region, and specifically to our most important partners and democratic allies in the region,” the State Department added.
Policy analysts claimed that Blinken is making the trip despite the escalating Ukraine crisis—as more than 100,000 Russian troops amassed near its border—to demonstrate support for the Indo-Pacific region and to focus on pushing back China’s growing assertiveness.
Facing U.S.-led efforts to pressure the Chinese Communist Party regime over its human rights abuses, and Russia over its military buildup near the Ukraine border, the two leaders proclaimed a “no limits” friendship on the opening day of the Winter Olympics on Friday. They also signed gas and oil contracts worth an estimated $117.5 billion.
Displaying a united front, the two leaders issued an over 5,000-word statement after the meeting, highlighting their opposition to what they called “interference in the internal affairs” by “other States,” in a veiled reference to Washington and its allies.
According to the statement, Russia recognizes Taiwan as “an inalienable part of China” and rejects the self-ruling island’s independence “in any form,” while Beijing backed Russia’s opposition for the enlargement of NATO.
The two nations also “strongly condemn” the trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom—namely the AUKUS pact—under which the United States and the UK will help Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarines.
Dorothy Li and Reuters contributed to this report.