Few in the field of international relations knew, or remembered, of the existence of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, although this forum, formed by the United States, India, Japan and Australia, existed since 2007, when it was created to crystallize the impulses of regional cooperation that emerged after the 2004 tsunami. After years on hold, and after an attempt by Donald Trump to revitalize it in 2017, the tripartite security pact announced a week ago by the United States, United Kingdom and Australia called the aukus —a containment dam for Chinese expansionism in the Indo-Pacific— lifted the Quad from oblivion.
In March it held a virtual meeting, but this Friday the Quad established itself as a strong regional platform by holding an in-person White House summit attended by US President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Ministers Narendra Modi, Japan, Suga Yoshihide, and Australia, Scott Morrison. With the latter, Biden met on Monday in New York, on the occasion of the UN General Assembly. With the others, he met this Friday at the White House, with special emphasis on the bilateral meeting he held with Modi, the first in person between the two. The situation in Afghanistan, where Pakistan, the Taliban’s main ally, gains ground at the expense of India, increased the importance of the meeting, described as “historic” by Modi, as well as the movements of China in the Central Asian country, as a major beneficiary regime change in Kabul to promote its infrastructure and reconstruction projects.
While the White House insists on qualifying the Quad as an informal group and on equating it with other regional initiatives such as Asean —of which China is a part—, the nuclear submarine crisis has reinforced the strategic importance of this initiative. No one specifically mentions China — not even the pact aukus nor the Quad—but the Beijing regime is the recipient of most messages. No wonder that “an open and free, inclusive Indo-Pacific” is the Quad’s priority, almost its existential motto, as the four leaders reiterated this Friday, which means its intention is to keep incursions under control of China in its waters.
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The three countries called up by Biden are antagonists against China to varying degrees, from the military threat it poses to Japan, to Australia’s last-minute diplomatic alignment, to the traditional distrust of the other Asian superpower, India, in relation to Beijing. According to an outline of the final communiqué from the meeting, which the Japanese agency Kyodo News had access, participants planned to warn against “any attempt to change the status quo [nas águas] the South China Sea and the East China Sea”.
The final communiqué will likely use harsher language about the situation in areas where China is redoubling its territorial claims, according to the version released by Kyodo News. Incursions by Chinese patrol boats into the waters of the Senkaku Islands, controlled by Japan — or Diaoyu Islands, the name given by China, which claims sovereignty over them — have multiplied this year. There is also concern about a possible escalation in the Taiwan Straits.
The official and stated purpose of the Quad’s convening —”an informal meeting of the main Indo-Pacific democracies,” according to senior White House officials — is to increase cooperation on a wide range of issues, such as the installation of the 5G network — other casus belli with Beijing—, granting scholarships to prestigious US universities, fisheries issues, semiconductor supply, combating climate change, and joint contribution to global health. In March, the four Quad members announced their goal of donating 1 billion doses of covid-19 vaccines by the end of 2022, while boosting India’s production capacity. Quadrilateral collaboration in the pandemic “is on a good path,” emphasized Biden.
There are also several working groups in the cybersecurity field. “It’s not a regional security organization,” a senior White House official insisted Thursday in a telephone interview with journalists. However, he acknowledged that “the Biden Administration understands that the challenges of the 21st century will largely unfold in the Indo-Pacific, and we are redoubling our efforts” to address the threat, according to the same source.
Since the Trump Administration — as belligerent towards China as Biden’s, although they approach the confrontation in different ways — relaunched the Quad forum, the group has held several high-level meetings and increasingly important joint military exercises in the zone, like the last ones, in 2020, in the Gulf of Bengal, northeast of the Indian Ocean. The scenario in which, according to Washington, global power in the 21st century will be defined.
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