The United States remains focused long-term on the Indo-Pacific region despite concerns over Russian aggression toward the Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday.
Blinken is in the Australian city of Melbourne for a meeting on Friday with his counterparts from Australia, India and Japan.
The four nations form the so-called “Quad,” a bloc of Indo-Pacific democracies that was created to counter China's regional influence.
“There are a few other things going on in the world right now, some of you may have noticed. We have a bit of a challenge with Ukraine and Russian aggression. We're working 24/7 on that,” Blinken said in his first public address since arriving in Australia on Wednesday.
“But we know, the president knows better than anyone else, that so much of this century is going to be shaped by what happens here in the Indo-Pacific region,” he added.
The Indo-Pacific is the fastest growing region in the world, accounting for two-thirds of global economic growth over the past five years and home to half the world's population, Blinken said.
What matters in the region matters around the world and challenges like climate change and Covid-19 can't be tackled by any nation alone, he said.
“More than ever before, we need partnerships, we need alliances, we need coalitions of countries willing to put their efforts, their resources, their minds into tackling these problems,” Blinken said.
“What really drives us is a shared vision” of a “free and open society,” he added.
Blinken's trip is designed to reinforce America's interests in Asia and its intent to push back against increasing Chinese assertiveness in the region. He will also visit Fiji and discuss pressing concerns about North Korea with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts in Hawaii.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, who will chair the Quad meeting, said the agenda would include Covid-19 vaccine distribution, cyber and critical technologies, countering malicious and dangerous disinformation, terrorism, maritime security and climate change.
“As a network of liberal democracies, we are committed to very practical cooperation and ensuring that all Indo-Pacific nations – large and small – are able to make their own strategic decisions and make those decisions free from coercion,” Payne said.
In Beijing on Wednesday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian responded to a question about Blinken's visit with a lengthy attack on American democracy and a defense of China's contributions to the global order.
“With its so-called democracy having collapsed long ago, the U.S. is forcing other countries to accept the standards of the American democracy, drawing lines with democratic values and piecing together cliques. That is a complete betrayal of democracy,” Zhao told reporters at a daily briefing.