At this critical point, what the Quad chooses next is more important than ever. Malcolm Davis, senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said that compared to its early roots under the George W. Bush administration, the Quad had evolved from a “low key political and economic dialogue” to a key player in the Asia-Pacific region.
“The Quad is not Asian NATO… but at the same time it is clearly moving towards a cooperative security approach,” Davis said.
Initially proposed in 2007, the Quad was put on hold for a decade until it was revived under former US President Donald Trump amid China’s rise as an economic and military superpower.
The diplomatic environment in Asia has changed significantly since that revival in 2017 — and the Quad has taken on greater significance.
Meanwhile, ties between Washington and Beijing, which deteriorated under Trump, have deteriorated further under Biden as the US strengthens its diplomatic partnerships in Asia to contain China.
Japan has also welcomed greater US involvement in the region. After efforts to adopt a warmer China policy in the early years of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s time as leader, Japan has become increasingly suspicious of Beijing in the past year.
Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia program at the United States’ German Marshall Fund, said India is now the most cautious member of the Quad and the extent to which the group is willing to promote defense cooperation and oppose China , depends on Delhi.
But in the Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs in early 2021, Amrita Jash, a research fellow at the Center for Land Warfare Studies in New Delhi, said India is still moving closer to the US militarily, including new and improved military exercises, weapons purchases and technology transfers.
Some of the collaboration includes improved tracking and targeting technology, Jash said. “(There is) an imperative for India to closely monitor Chinese (military) movements along the Himalayan border and map China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean,” she added.
Glaser said there was another determinant of how far the Quad would want to go in opposition to Beijing.
“Another factor is China’s own behavior. The more China is willing to threaten other countries’ interests, threaten economic coercion… the more countries will be willing to push back,” she said.
United on Taiwan
Taiwan is likely to be one of the main points of discussion on Friday in Washington.
Glaser said she believes the August statement could have prevented a reference to Taiwan at this week’s Quad leaders’ meeting, which would be an unusually strong move by the Indian government.
“I think that’s going to be quite a wake-up call (for Beijing). They’ve heard it from Australia and Japan, but never from India,” she said.
According to Ben Scott, director of Australia’s Security and the Rules-based Order Project at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, a united Quad could help deter further Chinese government aggression against Taiwan.
However, he said nuance would be important in any coverage to avoid a spiral into a possible confrontation. “There is always a risk of going too far and falling into provocation,” he said.
The Quad meeting may come at a useful time for the US, Scott said — there’s never been a better time for Washington to show it’s part of a broad, close-knit community in Asia.
Scott said that while he believed the AUKUS agreement had been a positive step for US diplomacy in Asia, it had also presented a very ‘Anglosphere’ face to the region.
“It is itself described as a club of maritime democracies that automatically excludes most of Southeast Asia,” Scott said. “(And) the center of gravity for (US-China) competition is in Southeast Asia.”
By being part of a larger cooperation agreement with Japan and India, Scott said the US can give a more diverse face to Southeast Asia, among other parts of the continent — one that focuses not only on military acumen, but also on economic ones. and political cooperation.
Scott said it was important for the US to use the Quad now to focus on “positive and inclusive” agreements in Asia-Pacific, if it were to effectively counter Beijing.
“If you want to win hearts and minds in the region (Asia-Pacific), the first priority is Covid and the second is more broader economic stability and security,” he said.