At this critical time, what the Quad chooses to do is more important than ever. Senior analyst Malcolm Davis of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said that compared to his early roots under the George W. Bush administration, Quad had evolved from a “low key political and economic dialogue” to a very significant player in Asia and the Pacific.
“The quad is not an Asian NATO … but at the same time it is clearly moving in the direction of a cooperative security approach,” Davis said.
The quad was originally proposed in 2007, but 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 markedly since the revival in 2017 – and the Quad has gained greater importance.
Meanwhile, ties between Washington and Beijing, which worsened under Trump, have faltered further under Biden as the United States strengthens its diplomatic partnerships in Asia with a view to curbing China.
Japan has also welcomed greater US involvement in the region. After trying to pursue a warmer China policy in the early years of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s tenure as leader, Japan has become more and more vigilant with Beijing over the past year.
Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund in the United States, said India was now the most cautious member of the Quad, and how far the group is willing to push for defense cooperation and counterattack China may depend on Delhi.
But wrote in the Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs in early 2021, Amrita Jash, a researcher at the Center for Land Warfare Studies in New Delhi, said India is still moving closer to the US military, including new and improved military exercises, weapons. procurement and technology transfers.
Part of the collaboration involves improved tracking and targeting technology, Jash said. “(There is) an urgent need for India to keep a close eye on Chinese (military) movements along the border with the Himalayas and map China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean,” she added.
Glaser said there was another deciding factor in how far Quad would be willing to go in opposition to Beijing.
“Another factor is China’s own behavior. The more willing China is 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 for discussion in Washington on Friday.
Glaser said she believed the August statement could have anticipated a reference to Taiwan at the meeting of Quad leaders this week, which would be an unusually strong move by the Indian government.
“I think it will be something of a wake-up call (for Beijing). They have heard it from Australia and Japan, but never from India,” she said.
A united Quad could help deter any further aggression by the Chinese government against Taiwan, according to Ben Scott, director of Australia’s Security and the Rules-based Order Project at Sydney’s Lowy Institute.
However, he said nuances would be important in any message to avoid a spiral in potential confrontation. “There is always a risk of going too far and spilling out into provocation,” he said.
The quad meeting could come at a useful time for the United States, Scott said – there has never been a better time for Washington to show that it is part of a broad, cohesive society in Asia.
Scott said that although he believed the AUKUS agreement had been a positive step for US diplomacy in Asia, it had also presented a very “Anglo-sphere” face to the region.
“It’s itself described as a club of maritime democracies that automatically excludes most of Southeast Asia,” Scott said. “(And) the focus of (US-China) competition is in Southeast Asia.”
By being part of a larger cooperation agreement with Japan and India, Scott said the United States can present a more diverse face to Southeast Asia, among other parts of the continent – one that is not only concentrated on military fringe, but also economic and political cooperation .
Scott said it was important for the United States now to use the Quad to focus on “positive and inclusive” agreements in Asia-Pacific if it was to address Beijing effectively.
“If you want to win hearts and minds in (Asia Pacific), the first priority is Covid, and the second is broader economic stability and security,” he said.