US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to meet virtually with his counterparts from Japan, Australia and India in the "Quad" framework, a grouping seen as part of efforts to counter China's growing military and economic power.
The United States has announced talks with Australia, India, and Japan, with President Joe Biden renewing the alliance of the so-called "Quad" in defiance of warnings from China.
The State Department said on Wednesday that Secretary of State Antony Blinken will speak virtually with the foreign ministers of the three nations, with the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change on the agenda.
"These discussions [on Thursday] with the Quad foreign ministers are critical to advancing our shared goals of a free and open Indo-Pacific and rising to the defining challenges of our times," State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.
Launched in 2007, the Quad was an idea of Japan's then prime minister Shinzo Abe, a hawk who was eager to find partners to balance a rising China.
While Australia and India had initially been cautious about antagonising China, the Quad format has expanded in recent years as both nations' ties deteriorate with Beijing.
The Quad nations in November held four-way naval exercises in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, with Australia participating for the first time in more than a decade, weeks after their foreign ministers including Blinken's predecessor Mike Pompeo met in Tokyo.
China's warning to India
China's state-run Global Times earlier this month warned Biden that renewing the Quad would be a "serious strategic blunder," saying he may trigger "a severe strategic confrontation" with Beijing by trying to prevent its dominance.
The newspaper's expert commentary put particular pressure on India, suggesting it had the power to end the Quad format and advising that New Delhi should not "completely tie itself to the US' anti-China chariot."
India has historically insisted on non-alignment in its foreign policy but tensions have soared since last year when a pitched battle in the Himalayas left at least 20 Indian troops dead as well as an unknown number of Chinese casualties.
Raising speculation on the Quad's future, India did not use the term in its statement on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's first call with Biden since his inauguration, speaking more generally of the importance of "working with like-minded countries."
India called for a "free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific," adding an additional nuance to the White House's description of only "a free and open Indo-Pacific" built in part through the Quad.