US-China Policy: Biden brings Japan, Australia and India together to stare down at China
US-China Policy: Biden brings Japan, Australia and India together to stare down at China

US-China Policy: Biden brings Japan, Australia and India together to stare down at China

US President Joe Biden holds the first personal meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, better known as “the Quad”, an informal strategic forum for the United States, Australia, Japan and India – all democratic countries with a particular interest in counteracting China’s progress in Asia.
Biden is joined in Washington by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Indian leader Narendra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to discuss “promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific,” according to the White House.
The meeting comes at a time of great change for US policy in Asia. As the Biden administration moves to strengthen its diplomatic partnerships in the region, Japan takes one increasingly hawkish view of China’s military build-up. At the same time, Australia’s AUKUS defense pact with the United States and the United Kingdom has strengthened Washington’s commitment to Asia, while some key Southeast Asian partners are uneasy.

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.

Facing China

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.

In April 2020, relations between Australia and China took a major downturn after Australia’s Morrison called for an independent inquiry into the origins of Covid-19. Beijing retaliated by imposing punitive restrictions on Australian goods, and the relationship is still there to recover.

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.

The new US outreach was enthusiastically welcomed in Australia, and earlier this month the two governments joined forces with the UK to announce AUKUSan agreement by which the three nations would exchange military information and technology to form a closer defense partnership in Asia.

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.

In an unusually direct interview with CNN in September, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said Japan would “resolutely defend” its territory in the East China Sea “against Chinese action.”
Japan's Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi during an interview with CNN in September.

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.

Following a border clash between India and China in mid-2020, which resulted in fatalities for at least 20 Indian soldiers, experts said Delhi has been reluctant to antagonize Beijing.

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.

An Indian army convoy carrying reinforcements and supplies travels towards Leh through Zoji La, a high mountain pass bordering China on June 13 in Ladakh, India.

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.

Over the past year, Beijing has gone up military activity around the islandwhich has been ruled separately from mainland China since the end of a civil war more than seven decades ago.
The Chinese Communist Party regards Taiwan – home to some 24 million people – as an integral part of its territory, despite never having controlled it. President Xi has also previously warned that Beijing will not rule out the use of force “reunite” Taiwan with the Chinese mainland.
Under Trump and now Biden, the United States has strengthened its ties with Taiwan in recent years, accepted major arms sales and sent high-profile diplomats on. visit to the island.
Australia has joined the United States regularly by expressing its support for Taiwan and in July, Japan’s Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso said in a speech reported by local media that Tokyo should unite with Washington to defend the island against any invasion.
Then in August for the first time, a meeting of senior Quad officials issued a statement stressing “the importance of peace and security in the Taiwan Strait.”

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.

US President Joe Biden talks about national security with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, on the right, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, on the left, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on 15 September.

AUKUS precipitation

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.”

Analysis: Australia's decades-long balancing act between the United States and China is over.  It chose Washington
In a statement on September 17, Indonesia said it was “deeply concerned” on an arms race in Asia-Pacific, and called on Australia to respect international law and its commitment to peace and stability. A day later, Malaysia said the AUKUS agreement could provoke other powers to “act more aggressively in the region, especially the South China Sea.”

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 .

Beijing has pointed to the AUKUS agreement as an example of how Washington is only focused on military power in Asia, Scott said. By comparison, this week China formally requested to accede to the comprehensive and progressive agreement Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP)an 11-nation free trade pact from which the United States withdrew under Trump.

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.

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