‘Here to stay’: Indo-Pacific Quad leaders to meet at White House | Asia-Pacific News

The leaders of the United States, Japan, India and Australia will meet on Friday for their first in-person summit of the Indo-Pacific Security Dialogue, or so-called “Quad” group.

The informal arrangement, with countries first working together in response to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, has increasingly solidified since 2017. It has been fueled by subsequent policies of the US administration towards China, and aided in large part by individual tensions between Tokyo. , Canberra, New Delhi with Beijing.

Quad meetings over the past few years have gradually moved up the chain of command, with the grouping holding its first – albeit virtual – summit in March.

As the first face-to-face meeting of leaders nears, the survival of the current iteration of the US administration grouping together and the changes of governments in Japan and Australia “speaks to [the Quad’s] sustainability and how you might say the quad is here to stay, ”Sameer Lalwani, principal researcher for Asia strategy at the Stimson Center told Al Jazeera.

“It will be a real institution … I think it will be a group that will keep everyone’s minds in planning the defense of Washington and the diplomatic community for years to come,” he said.

While the concerns of the four countries over an increasingly assertive China in the Indo-Pacific region have created common ground, Lalwani added, the group’s emerging goals include a “Swiss Army knife of delivering public goods to the world. ‘Indo-Pacific’.

Following the March summit, the quartet issued a joint statement promoting “a free and open rules-based order”, pledging to combine “medical, scientific, financing, manufacturing and delivery” capabilities to COVID-19 vaccines and to fight climate change.

He also announced the creation of working groups on “critical and emerging” technologies, investments in 5G infrastructure and semiconductor supply chain issues to be addressed in the future.

Although China was prominent, the March joint statement did not specifically refer to the superpower.

Grouping solidifying

Observers say the Quad group is still finding its place. Its varied – and sometimes opaque – goals reflect the precarious balances for Australia, India and Japan, which see benefits in cooperating amid a crushing regional and global issue, but fear threatening their complex ties and distinct with Beijing.

Nonetheless, while all three countries have shown distrust of the ideologically focused emphasis on China under the administration of former President Donald Trump, all three have tended, to varying degrees, to speak more directly to China, although they continue to stress that they do not view the arrangement as merely a bulwark against China’s military might.

Yet in August, the Australian, Indian, Japanese and US navies staged sprawling naval exercises in the Pacific for the second year in a row, this time off the coast of Guam. The countries maintained that the Malabar exercises, which previously only included the United States and India, do not fall under the auspices of the Quad.

India, United States, Japan and Australia participate in Naval Exercise Malabar in 2020 [File: The Associated Press]

Meanwhile, Japan and Australia have shown a greater willingness to take an explicit position against China in the region, even with Beijing representing Tokyo’s second largest trading partner and Canberra’s largest.

Following a summit in April, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga issued a joint statement with US President Joe Biden criticizing China’s “claims and illegal maritime activities in the South China Sea”, actions surrounding the islands Japanese-administered Senkaku (known as Diaoyu in China), while stressing “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait”.

The declaration was unique in not only referring to China by name – something Tokyo had traditionally not been used to doing as part of a broader policy of ambiguity towards the neighboring superpower – but also to do reference to China’s military actions towards Taiwan. The last time the two countries named the island in a joint declaration was in 1969.

In an interview with Bloomberg on Wednesday, Suga warned that China’s rise to military power “could pose a risk to the peace and prosperity of our country” and called for stronger defense ties with the United States. . He added that it remains important for Japan and China to maintain dialogue.

Meanwhile, just days before Friday’s Quad summit, the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom announced a new Indo-Pacific security pact, AUKUS, which included a deal to provide Canberra with cash. -nuclear-powered navies. White House press secretary Jen Psaki ruled out the possibility of Japan or India being invited to the security partnership on Wednesday.

Unsurprisingly, Beijing was quick to condemn AUKUS, calling it “extremely irresponsible” and accusing countries of “stepping up the arms race” in the region.

An editorial by the Chinese state-owned tabloid Global Times, which previously derided the “Asian NATO” Quad, hung on Tuesday to criticism that Biden’s actions were leading to a “new cold war”.

He added that the United States had done “its utmost to inject into the Quad the narrative of military cooperation targeting China.”

India’s role

India’s decision to continue engaging with the Quad, meanwhile, is particularly significant, said Ethan Paul, senior researcher at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, noting that New Delhi is less concerned about the China Sea. southern than other nations, and more concerned about its disputed border with China and maritime safety in the Indian Ocean.

India, the only Quad country that shares a land border with China, has a “particularly tricky balancing game to play,” he added. The two countries continue to face a long-simmering border dispute. In June 2020, clashes in the Galwan Valley turned deadly.

“Seeing how India plays this game in the future, while maintaining its relationship with the Quad and its commitment to its vision for Asia has, in my opinion, immense consequences for the Quad itself but also for the future of the region, ”Paul told Al. Jazeera.

Particularly revealing, he added, will be how India reacts to the tensions surrounding Taiwan, which has become an increasingly central regional hotbed for the United States, Japan and Australia.

“It will be a serious question India will ask itself: What does the future of the Taiwan Strait look like and how will it get there?” he said. “However, answering this question will have big implications for the Quad.”

For its part, India has sought to downplay the Quad’s security elements as the summit approaches, with Foreign Minister Harsh Vardhan Shringla drawing a separate line between the group and alliances like AUKUS.

“Let me clarify that Quad and AUKUS are not groupings of a similar nature,” said Shringla, calling the Quad an “evolutionary process”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to meet with Biden one-on-one on Friday ahead of the four leaders’ meeting.

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