According to The Nikkei Asian Review, Japan will propose a top-level dialogue with the U.S., India and Australia, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono told The Nikkei on Wednesday. The idea is for the leaders of the four nations to promote free trade and defense cooperation across a stretch of ocean from the South China Sea, across the Indian Ocean and all the way to Africa.
The proposition would be aimed at counteracting China's aggressive maritime expansion under its Belt and Road initiative. China's plans would cement a sphere of influence for Beijing well beyond Asia.
Kono revealed that he exchanged his thoughts on the four-party dialogue with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop back in August on the sidelines of a foreign ministers meeting in Manila.
Kono also said he offered the foreign ministers of the U.K. and France collaborative roles in the partnership.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will officially propose the dialogue partnership to U.S. President Donald Trump on Nov. 6, Kono said.
"We are in an era when Japan has to exert itself diplomatically by drawing a big strategic picture," Kono said during the exclusive interview.
The idea is taking shape as China shakes up its leadership -- an overhaul that could have huge global implications. The Chinese Communist Party on Wednesday announced the new lineup for its seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, Beijing's top decision-making body. Experts say the new committee will give Xi Jinping a stronger grip on power.
Kono said the purpose of the dialogue is to secure a peaceful maritime zone from Asia to Africa. "Free and open seas will benefit all countries, including China and its Belt and Road initiative," the foreign minister said.
Japan expects to play a key role not only among the dialogue partners and collaborators but also in ensuring freedom of navigation in bodies of water that include the South China Sea, which China has been building a military presence.
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