Blinken Heads to Australia to Renew Asia Focus

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits Australia, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry goes to Mexico, and French President Emmanuel Macron urges calm regarding the Ukraine crisis.

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Blinken in Australia

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits Australia, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry goes to Mexico, and French President Emmanuel Macron urges calm regarding the Ukraine crisis.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Australia today for a two-day summit with his Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or Quad) counterparts from India, Japan, and Australia as he begins a tour of the Pacific.

For Blinken, it’s a chance for the Biden administration to underscore its priorities at a time when it has been heavily focused on Russia and Ukraine. “The key message that the secretary will take with him on this trip is that our partnerships deliver,” Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told reporters last week, adding “there is no greater global partnership than what we are trying to accomplish through the Quad with Australia, India, and Japan.”

Quad officials are expected to announce further plans to expand their COVID-19 vaccine alliance. At a meeting last year, the group had pledged to provide 1.3 billion coronavirus vaccine doses by the end of 2022; it is less than halfway to that goal, with the United States providing 413 million out of the 485 million doses committed so far.

Michael Green, a former Asia director at the U.S. National Security Council and a senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Quad’s new relevance is in part driven by strategic realities. “It shows the unease these powers have about the trajectory China is on,” Green said. And because of its informal nature, it allows the participating countries to increase cooperation on intelligence sharing and military exercises should the need arise. “It has the ability to let these countries turn up the heat if China becomes more difficult.”

Green sees the Quad on an upward trajectory after a period of turbulent stewardship under successive U.S. presidents. “I don’t think it’s going down again. It’s only going up,” Green said. “It’s now a feature of diplomacy in Asia, and you’re going to see more, not less. The question is how much more.”

Blinken leaves Australia later this week for destinations sure to stoke the envy of U.S. President Joe Biden’s cabinet in wintry Washington. First up is Fiji, where the secretary will meet with Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and discuss climate change resilience efforts with other Pacific island leaders. He then travels to Hawaii for three-way talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong.

China’s view that the Quad grouping is “doomed to fail” appears unchanged. Speaking to Chinese publication the Global Times, Xin Qiang, a professor of American Studies at Fudan University, sees a different message from Blinken’s trip. For Xin, Blinken’s travel reaffirms the United States focus on China and makes clear that “the Ukraine crisis is not as dire as U.S. media has been hyping.”

What We’re Following Today

Kerry in Mexico. U.S. climate envoy John Kerry is in Mexico today to meet with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to push the United States’ southern neighbor to increase its climate change commitments, particularly around electricity generation. López Obrador’s proposals for the country’s power sector would prioritize government-run fossil fuel plants over private renewable energy plants, a move the United States says would greatly limit overseas investment in the solar and wind sectors. 

Macron urges calm. French President Emmanuel Macron has sought to assure fellow Western leaders over Russia’s intentions in Ukraine, saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin told him he “won’t be initiating an escalation” surrounding Ukraine and that Russia would begin removing troops from Belarus.

Following the Putin-Macron meeting, the Kremlin denied that any firm agreement on de-escalation had been reached, with Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov cautioning that “in the current situation, Moscow and Paris can’t be reaching any deals.”

Johnson’s future. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson sought to calm backbench discord over his leadership with a cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday. The moves put Jacob Rees-Mogg as minister for “Brexit opportunities” while James Cleverly—who had been serving in the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office as minister for the Middle East and North Africa—takes on the role of Europe minister.

Delayed justice in Burkina Faso. Burkinabe prosecutors on Tuesday requested a 30-year jail term for former Burkinabe President Blaise Compaoré in the long-awaited trial over the killing of his iconic predecessor Thomas Sankara in 1987. The prosecution charges Compaoré, who fled to the Ivory Coast following a 2014 uprising, with complicity in Sankara’s murder as well as in helping conceal the corpse. The trial has been suspended until March 1, giving time for the defense to enter a plea.

An orangutan has become an unlikely symbol for Russia’s opposition after it became embroiled in a public battle over a new mascot for Novosibirsk Zoo in Russia’s third-largest city. Batu the orangutan shot to the top of an online poll after he was endorsed by Sergei Boyko, an exiled city administrator and ally of detained Russian dissident Alexey Navalny.

The primate’s success was short lived, however, as Sayan the snow leopard began rising in the poll at remarkable speed. Sayan received 25,000 votes within four hours, bringing it to first place, a rapid rise questioned by Russian media, with the polling website showing fewer than 2,000 visitors in the time the votes were counted.

Hoping to head off a political incident, the zoo has cancelled the poll, announcing it would instead pick the mascot internally. “Unfortunately, today we see that our animals have become participants in a farce organized by the people,” the zoo wrote in a statement.

Blinken Heads to Australia to Renew Asia Focus