26 May 2023

The Quad from the Four Corners

Richard Maude, Daniel Russel, Takako Hikotani, C. Raja Mohan

In The View from Australia, Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) Senior Fellow Richard Maude argues:Australia’s embrace of the Quad reflects a deep concern over China’s current behavior and its actions to shape the Indo-Pacific region, while also highlighting Australia’s preference to utilize diplomacy to shape regional dynamics.

Australia sees the Quad and its collective weight as a way to foster cautioning power to signal its displeasure with Beijing’s actions while simultaneously serving as a provider of regional public goods.

The Quad’s growing focus on delivering public goods should be seen as supporting regional resilience and sovereignty in the Indo-Pacific and a platform for “enabling choices” for regional partners.

While there are some challenges facing the Quad, especially in how Southeast Asian partners perceive the initiative, Australia will continue to offer reassurances to ASEAN partners and position the grouping as a provider of much needed regional goods.

In The View from America, ASPI Vice President Daniel Russel argues:The Quad has come a long way since its inception in 2004, and under President Joe Biden, the U.S. has moved away from its framing of the grouping as an anti-China effort and refashioned the Quad as a vehicle for partnership and public goods.

The Quad seeks to demonstrate that China is not the only game in town and that democracies can deliver more than security guarantees, including addressing the needs of the region.

While the focus on functional cooperation and providing public goods is a step in the right direction, there is growing disillusionment in the region due to the inadequacies of existing initiatives. Additionally, the grouping will have to continue to contend with divergent interests within the group, for example how to address Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

At the Leaders’ Summit, the members need to showcase their accomplishments and achievements rather than roll out new initiatives and highlight ways to further involve the private sectors of the member countries.

In The View from India, ASPI Senior Fellow C. Raja Mohan argues:The perception of India as the “weakest link” in the Quad is rooted in India’s reticence to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its opposition to making the grouping a security forum. However, considering that the Quad was never supposed to be a formal alliance, India’s role should instead be seen as a critical Asian partner who brings valuable political and ideological weight to the grouping.

The Quad’s evolution is illustrative of India’s incremental movement to become closer to the U.S. and its Asian allies and overcoming its historical hesitations. To understand why India has embraced the reemergence of the Quad, one does not need to look further than the disputed Himalayan frontier and the threat China poses to India’s sovereignty.

The Quad itself has been refashioned from an anti-China alliance to a loose coalition that could constrain Beijing from establishing a China-dominated Asia. While bolstering their capabilities to resist Chinese expansionism, the grouping should consciously avoid escalating tensions with Beijing.

Outcomes from the Leaders’ Summit should focus on delivering a critique of China’s actions and regional discourse, highlight the importance of Ukraine for Asia and territorial sovereignty, and build on ideas to draw in other Asian partners into Quad Plus arrangements.

In The View from Japan, ASPI Senior Fellow Takako Hikotani argues:Japan has viewed the Quad grouping as a key means to not only exercise leadership in the region and advance the Free and Open Indo-Pacific concept but also bring India in, keep the U.S. engaged, and foster even closer ties with Australia.

Since former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s assassination in July 2022, Prime Minister Kishida Fumio has emerged as an active and bold leader, who is committed to strengthening the country’s defense capabilities over the next five years and is dually playing a decisive role on the international stage. Prime Minister Kishida’s visit to Ukraine at the same time as President Xi’s trip to Russia illustrates the leaders’ different world views and approaches.

Japan sees the Quad as a mechanism to serve as a bridge to the Global South and to forge relations with other like-minded states. One of the new policies unveiled by Japan supporting this goal is the new Official Security Assistance program, as well as the new charter for Japanese Official Development Assistance. In addition to these new initiatives, Japan is introducing a new framework to encourage private capital investment in regional start-ups.

The View from Australia | Richard Maude

Australia’s embrace of the Quad in the group’s second life is wholehearted and irreversible, reflecting deep, bipartisan concern about China’s current behavior and future intent in the Indo-Pacific.

The Quad is emblematic of an Australian foreign policy heavily geared to the search for a favorable “strategic equilibrium” in the Indo-Pacific in which “no country dominates, and no country is dominated,” to quote Foreign Minister Penny Wong. Canberra sees the economic and military weight of the United States, Japan, and India as critical to these endeavors, in and out of the Quad format.

The times suit the Quad for other reasons. Japan and India join the United States as bilateral relations of first-order importance for Australia, with ever-deeper cooperation sustained by a largely shared outlook on the region and strong economic ties. The Quad’s work on supply chain security in critical minerals and technologies draws strength from these synergies.

The Quad sits comfortably within a long tradition of Australia seeking international impact through partnerships. It fits the Albanese government’s narrative of Australian “agency” — that Australia must not let others decide its future. And Australia’s commitment to the Quad reflects a desire for diplomacy to lead in the Indo-Pacific, for all the recent investment in military deterrence.

Risks and Challenges

Can the Quad deliver on these high Australian hopes? The group has momentum but it is too soon to know.

Australia hopes the weight of the Quad creates some cautioning power. China wants desperately to prevent any coalescing of opposition to its regional ambitions, so the Quad’s “signaling” function is important and useful enough. It is less clear, though, if the Quad has had much restraining influence on China’s behavior to date.

Still, Australia also hopes the Quad can support the resilience and sovereignty of Indo-Pacific countries, especially in Southeast Asia. Australia wants the Quad to deliver “security and growth for all” through initiatives, for example, focused on health security, clean energy, regional connectivity, and maritime domain awareness. Foreign Minister Wong says this work is about “enabling choices.” Like other Quad partners, Australia does not want regional countries to drift entirely into China’s orbit.

For Australia, there is also a normative benefit to the Quad — a counterpoint to Beijing’s now-determined efforts to reshape global governance to better suit China’s interests and authoritarianism. But with an eye to regional sensitivities, Australia highlights rules-based approaches to regional affairs, not the group’s democratic credentials.

For all its centrality in Australian foreign policy, the Quad creates some diplomatic challenges. The first is that the Quad highlights the divergence between Australia and many of its near neighbors, especially in Southeast Asia, about the nature of the challenge China poses and what to do about it. Southeast Asia worries about being caught up in a conflict, of having to “pick a side,” and of being sidelined — central but no longer relevant to the most pressing challenge of the age.

Foreign Minister Wong rejects the idea there is tension between the Quad and Australia’s support for Southeast Asia and ASEAN-centered architecture (like the East Asia Summit), arguing the Quad is complementary to ASEAN’s own efforts to keep the peace. Still, inevitably, Australia deals with the lingering concern that the Quad will both increase tension in the region and make ASEAN redundant.

Second, Australia’s Indo-Pacific balancing agenda, now encompassing not just the Quad but deeper force posture and deterrence cooperation with the United States, the AUKUS partnership, and nuclear-propelled submarines, operates in tension with the government’s desire to stabilize relations with China and restore an economic relationship damaged by coercive trade restrictions.

Whether these competing interests can be reconciled remains to be seen. So far, Beijing appears prepared to hold the course on stabilization. But China’s state media warns that continued progress depends on Australia “refraining from joining the U.S.’ anti-China geopolitical game.”

Outlook for the Quad Summit

Australia will be polite about President Joe Biden’s late cancelation to deal with the debt ceiling crisis at home. A U.S. default would be a much worse outcome in terms of perceptions of American reliability in the region, and the long contest ahead in the Indo-Pacific with China won’t be decided by a single Quad meeting. Still, there is disappointment. For the time being, at least, Australia misses a very rare opportunity to host the leaders of the United States, Japan, and India at the same time.

Looking ahead, Australia isn’t interested in pushing the boundaries of the Quad too hard. It wants the Quad’s focus to remain diplomatic and practical. It is not interested in membership expansion. Nor does it want the Quad to develop a formal defense pillar, worrying that China and Southeast Asia will see this as the beginnings of an Indo-Pacific NATO.

Australia will want sufficient new “deliverables” from Quad summits to show momentum. Still, Canberra knows the greater risk to the Quad is failing to demonstrate that it can respond effectively to the needs of the Indo-Pacific, especially in Southeast Asia. If the Quad is to “enable choices,” it must deliver on its already sprawling agenda.

The View from America | Daniel Russel

The American view of the Quad has come a long way from its inception in response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and the forum has undergone several reboots along the way — most recently under President Joe Biden, who raised it to the leaders’ level. Biden’s team took what their predecessors framed as an anti-China instrument and refashioned it as a vehicle for partnership among leading democracies to provide tangible benefits and public goods to the Indo-Pacific region through COVID-19 vaccine distribution and health programs, infrastructure, cybersecurity, academic exchanges, and emerging technologies. The thrust of the current approach is to prove that “democracies deliver” and that Washington and its partners have more to contribute than just traditional security. The Quad’s emphasis is less on what member countries can do for each other and instead on what they can do for the region, which has expanded beyond Asia into the Indo-Pacific. The Quad’s aim is not only to reinforce norms of behavior in the region by providing a superior alternative to the Chinese approach, but to do so in a way that addresses the needs and desires of countries in the Indo-Pacific region.

The Quad marries Washington’s emphasis on acting jointly with allies and partners in the effort to ensure that China is not the only game in town. By tapping into the strengths of each member, the Quad demonstrates that its whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Importantly, this reflects the priority placed on further integrating India into the collective effort to meet the China challenge. Washington seeks to draw India closer, taking advantage of Delhi’s outrage at Chinese incursions, and to model for the Indian government the kind of open communication and cooperation that has evolved in the trilateral U.S.-Japan-Australia dialogue. The flip side of that is the opportunity the Quad offers to gain the perspective, advice, and global influence that India brings.

Risks and Challenges

A significant risk is the growing disillusionment of countries in the region that feel the Quad has not adequately delivered on its promises thus far. Working groups in areas such as health, space, and infrastructure were created with great fanfare at previous Quad summits, but some Asian diplomats have complained that there is still little to show by way of results. New and valuable Quad initiatives have been rolled out, such as the Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness initiative — something the region deeply desires and desperately needs as a tool to protect maritime resources from predatory illegal fishing, but which has been very slow to take shape.

Regional concern that the Quad would become a rival challenging ASEAN centrality in the region’s architecture seems to have subsided from intense angst early on to a more manageable level of discomfort. However, determining how to hold high-level Quad convenings and provide public goods without alienating ASEAN or appearing to compete with the ASEAN-based structure remains a challenge.

Lastly, the divergence of interests between India and the other three Quad members could be a problem with respect to China, since Delhi is understandably far more focused on China’s activities in Pakistan or the Galwan Valley than in the South China Sea or Africa. Differences regarding Russia are even more problematic, particularly as the United States, Japan, and Australia press India to align more closely with them despite Delhi’s heavy dependence on Russian military equipment and inexpensive oil and gas.

Looking to the Quad Summit

For the Biden administration, the Sydney summit, planned to come on the heels of the G-7 in Hiroshima and a possible meeting with Pacific Island leaders, was meant to be a celebration of “mateship” and common interests. Like bureaucracies everywhere, U.S. officials are hardwired to push for shiny new initiatives to garland the presidential visit. However, the Quad would be better served by using the media reach of the next Quad summit to showcase its accomplishments over the past two years rather than by launching yet another initiative. Telling the story of what the Quad has achieved and highlighting the benefits to non-Quad countries will carry far more weight than promises — particularly amid uncertainty over the outcome of the 2024 U.S. presidential election. It will also help to underscore the reassuring message that the Quad is focusing on meeting the region’s needs rather than addressing a threat.

If a new chapter is to be opened in the Quad playbook, it would ideally focus on ways to involve and leverage the private sector in the Quad’s agenda. After all, the free-market and innovative Quad economies represent close to 30 percent of global gross domestic product, and ultimately, it is companies, not governments, that will provide the investment, know-how, technology, and commerce that the region values and wants.

The View from Japan | Takako Hikotani

So much has happened in Japan since the last Quad Summit in Tokyo in May 2022. In July of that year, Abe Shinzo, former prime minister of Japan and chief architect of the Quad, was assassinated. In December, the Japanese government issued three new security documents, including a US$316 billion Defense Buildup Plan, which outlined a strategy to fundamentally strengthen the country’s defense capability over the next five years. In March 2023, Kishida Fumio, Abe’s successor, made a surprise visit to Ukraine, coinciding with Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow. Kishida has emerged as a surprisingly active and bold leader: perhaps not as charismatic as Abe, but possibly more decisive on the world stage.

Where does the Quad fit these developments? Currently, attention to this year’s Quad Leaders’ Summit seems to have taken a back seat to the G-7 ministerial meetings and upcoming G-7 summit in Hiroshima. However, we can see the relevance of the Quad in Kishida’s recent policy initiatives.

For Japan, the Quad has always been an important means to achieve a Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) — to “bring India in, keep the US engaged, and forge closer ties with Australia.”

The Quad is also a platform through which Japan seeks to exercise leadership. In the past year, Prime Minister Kishida has reiterated that the international community is at a historic turning point; that the free, open, and stable international order is in danger; and that Japan is resolved to “proactively create peace and prosperity and a free and open order worldwide.” During his March 2023 visit to India, Kishida announced four pillars of cooperation for FOIP: (1) principles for peace and rules for prosperity, (2) addressing challenges in an Indo-Pacific way, (3) multilayered connectivity, and (4) extending efforts to ensure the security and safe use of the sea to the air. While Kishida did not explicitly mention the Quad, the “rulemaking through dialogue” and “equal partnership” approach is precisely what the Quad is designed to do.

Kishida has also put forth two new initiatives for the Quad: to serve as a bridge to the Global South and to forge relations with “like-minded (partner) countries.” The recently announced operating principle for Official Security Assistance (OSA) is a new program intended to bolster the defensive capabilities of regional allies. Procuring surveillance radars to the Philippines may be followed by similar support toward Malaysia, Bangladesh, and Fiji. Japan’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) charter will also be revised, and together with OSA, Japan will seek to expand its network of partner countries to counter authoritarian states. Japan hopes to reach out to the Global South through India, this year’s G-20 leader, and work with its three Quad partners on infrastructure development, maritime security, and disaster assistance.

Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa stated during the Quad foreign ministers’ meeting in Delhi that the Quad is like a soft version of the Beatles: “the members are fixed and close but each member can act solo.” This is how Japan wants to keep the Quad: no membership expansion and flexibility to pursue individual action. The challenge going forward will be whether “the band” can produce consecutive hits like the Beatles, work together cohesively, pool resources to invest effectively, and generate public goods for the region, so, as Hayashi put it, that “we can do much better than just one plus one plus one plus one is four, but instead six or seven or eight by coordinating or listening.”

Risks and Challenges

The challenge for the Quad will be delivering outcomes that benefit the entire Indo-Pacific region. To that end, Japan should work with the Quad members to make the most of newly announced government-led investments in the region. Kishida has promised US$75 billion in infrastructure investment in the Indo-Pacific region by 2030, in public and private funds, through private investments, yen loans, and other means. In addition, following its revision of the ODA charter, Japan is introducing a new framework for “private capital mobilization-type” grant aid to support start-ups by younger people. Japan seeks to work with regional partners that support this idea. Kishida made this announcement as part of his speech in Delhi, but as the subsequent surprise Ukraine visit stole the news, it may have not received the attention that it deserves.

Looking to the Quad Summit

Japan should continue the positive momentum of the G-7 Hiroshima summit. Both Australia and India will be attending the G-7 summit. Other countries invited to the summit, including the Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Brazil, the Cook Islands (representing the Pacific Islands), and Comoro (representing Africa), are all important partners for the Quad.

With the cancelation of the Sydney Summit, the meeting of the four Quad leaders is now scheduled to take place in Hiroshima. It was just announced that on the same day, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will be attending the G7 summit. It would be a historical diplomatic moment for Japan, and Kishida should rise to the occasion.

The View from India | C. Raja Mohan

Although India has a huge stake in the success of the Quad, Delhi is viewed by some as the “weak link” in the forum. One reason for this perception is India’s reluctance to join the West in condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The other is Delhi’s opposition to the Quad as an explicit security forum.

These perceptions are rooted in the tendency to view the Quad through the lens of a formal alliance. This view makes it difficult to understand the role of India, which, unlike Australia and Japan, is not a treaty ally of the United States in the forum.

Conscious of this crucial difference, the Joe Biden administration has avoided any sharp criticism of India on the Ukraine crisis. Fending off questions about India’s ambivalence on the Russian invasion, Washington has argued that the United States is in a “long game” of engagement with India. While Russia represents the immediate threat to the West, the United States recognizes the greater and more persistent challenges coming from China and acknowledges that India is central to addressing those challenges.

Having a large, non-aligned nation like India that celebrates its Asian identity brings valuable political and ideological heft to the Quad amid China’s efforts to mobilize anti-Western sentiments to bolster its quest for dominance over Asia.

India’s long-standing dependence on Russian weapons, at a time when it is locked in a serious border conflict with China, has certainly constrained its room for maneuvering on the Ukraine crisis. Yet Delhi has not allowed the relentless Russian criticism of the Quad to deter it from strengthening the forum.

Entrenched legacies of “non-alignment” and “strategic autonomy,” to be sure, have made Delhi extremely cautious of entering into “alliance-like” arrangements. Yet the Quad’s story is really about India moving closer than ever before to the United States and its Asian allies and overcoming its historical ideological hesitations. While India is opposed to making the Quad a military alliance, it has significantly expanded its bilateral defense cooperation with the three partners in the forum.

Risks and Challenges

As India faces unprecedented threats from China — strategic, military, economic, and political — building coalitions to balance Beijing is central to Delhi’s calculus. This has coincided with dramatic changes in the perceptions of China in Canberra, Tokyo, and Washington.

The revival of the Quad in 2017 and its advances since then are directly correlated with the sharpening of tensions over the disputed Himalayan frontier between China and India. It also corresponds to fundamental changes in the debate on China within the United States. This has led to the first-ever strategic convergence on China and the Asian order between Delhi and Washington since World War II.

India’s greater engagement with the United States, of course, is tempered by an enduring feature of its strategic culture — a preference for relying on deliberate incrementalism rather than making quick, bold departures.

India’s opposition to turning the Quad into an anti-China alliance is now shared in Canberra, Tokyo, and Washington. Instead, the Quad’s goal is to build a loose coalition that could constrain Beijing from building a China-dominated order in Asia and its waters.

All four states agree that while strengthening the resistance to Chinese expansionism, they should consciously avoid escalation of tensions with Beijing. Managing this tension is one of the main strategic challenges to the Quad. This challenge is particularly acute for India, whose army has been in a face-off with the People’s Liberation Army in the Himalayan heights since the spring of 2020.

Looking to the Quad Summit

The Quad has been criticized from two very different standpoints. On the one hand, there are those who ask what consequential things the Quad has done recently. On the other are those who see the Quad as a major threat to the current regional order.

Building the Quad coalition into an effective regional institution will certainly take time; however, the time has come to focus on a few critical issues rather than pursuing an expansive Quad agenda grounded in arguments to prove its regional “relevance.”

Three broad outcomes of the Quad Leaders’ Summit should be of interest to India. First, the Quad must articulate a sharp critique of the Chinese discourse, which has become more ambitious to include ideas such as the Global Development Initiative and Global Security Initiative. Second, in highlighting the implications of Ukraine for Asia, the Quad must underline the importance of “territorial sovereignty” and “rejection of use of force to change borders” as core principles in any Asian order. Third, the upcoming summit must develop ideas for drawing other Asian countries, such as South Korea, into the Quad forum as “dialogue partners” and members of ad hoc working groups.

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