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CWA # 44, 21 July 2018

Global Politics
Quad as an alternative to the BRI: Three Main Challenges

  Divyabharathi E

Will the Quad be coherent and consistent towards China despite their bilateral arrangements? Will the Quad be open and inclusive towards others like China’s BRI? With Trump's "America First" strategy, is the United States willing to fund into such an immense project overseas?

Divyabharathi E

Ms Divyabharathi E is a Research Scholar at the Department of International Studies, Stella Maris College, Chennai. She can be contacted at


The United States, Australia, India, and Japan had been considering the establishment of a joint regional infrastructure plan to counter China’s multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Though the officials from these countries clarified the plan to be an ‘alternative’ not a ‘rival’ to BRI. It’s too early to tell how and when this proposed plan may materialize since it is still at the discussion stage. This is not the first time the “Quad,” have teamed up to attempt to develop a common approach to China.

Will the Quad be coherent and consistent towards China despite their bilateral arrangements? Will the Quad be open and inclusive towards others like China’s BRI? With Trump's "America First" strategy, is the United States willing to fund into such an immense project overseas?

If Quad has to provide an alternative to the BRI, it has to face the following three challenges.


1. Quad’s Bilateral Relations with China

A stable relationship with China is pivotal to every one of these economies. Conservative states like Australia feel awkward about China's rise and frequently dispatch political or ideological crusades against Beijing. In any case, realism and pragmatism will prevail.

For instance, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's government has sounded intense toward China, cutting Beijing for interference in Australia's local governmental issues. Notwithstanding, before his latest visit to the United States, Turnbull set a more placating tone and said China was "not a threat." In Washington, he expressed that it was off base to paint the United States and its partners like Australia as being against China in some kind of rerun of the Cold War. While recognizing some "perplexing and troublesome issues" with China, the Australian government has denied a diplomatic freeze or cold war between the two countries.

The Trump administration inclines toward reciprocal ways to deal with multilateral agreements in international issues and looks for a productive association with China in spite of contrasts with China on trade and other issues.


2. BRI is Inclusive than Quad

China's BRI stays open and comprehensive, and China respects the support of all countries, including the "Quad." The idea may have originated from China, however, it is together held "owned" by every participating countries and the dividends of development are for everybody to share. However the "Quad" countries have been tepid to the BRI from the earliest starting point, though recently they appear to have turned out to be more open, and both the United States and Australia sent ministerial-level official delegations to the May 2017 BRI Forum in Beijing. In any case, doubts stay high. Specifically, India contradicts the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

India and Japan issued the vision report of their proposed Asia Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) in May 2017 and started to elevate it to counter the Maritime Silk Road of the BRI. The AAGC vision uses some of the keywords from the BRI, for example, regional cooperation, quality infrastructure, connectivity, people-to-people exchanges, and so forth. In any case, India and Japan still can't seem to clarify, convincingly, why the AAGC is better than the BRI. As a supplement to the BRI, the AAGC ought to be invited by others, including China; as a vital counterforce against China that brings pressures up in the area, it ought not to be.

Cordial relations between India and China are fundamental to the Asian Century. Currently, these relations have reached a strained tipping point with major irritants like the boundary dispute, the supply of nuclear technology, military and diplomatic support to Pakistan, blocking Indian membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and countering Indian efforts to have Jaish-e-Mohamed chief Masood Azhar named an UN-designated terrorist. Moreover, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the Doklam standoff saw India-China relations take a roller coaster ride throughout 2017. Given their bilateral irritants, global leadership aspirations, new geopolitical alignments have trapped India and China in several competing situations, straining their cordiality. The Quad, revived recently, will create more mistrust between the Himalayan neighbours.


3. Who will finance the Quad?

With Trump's "America First" arrangement, is the United States willing to put resources into such an immense undertaking abroad? Also, where will the investments come from? Japan's Abenomics has accomplished some positive outcomes yet a long and winding street lies ahead as far as its monetary recuperation. India tends to overstate Beijing's expectations in South Asia and consider itself to be an associate to China in each aspect. China has been Australia's biggest trading partner, export market, and import source since 2009. It is not in any of the “Quad” countries’ interest to disrupt their dynamic and beneficial relations with China and none is likely to come up with the money needed to fund the proposed project.


Will Quad materialize?

The proposed plan is an economic project, yet fundamentally it speaks to these countries' political, strategic, and diplomatic endeavours to react to China’s rise. Some in the “Quad” has still not become accustomed to the new expanding Chinese power and influence. It is justifiable that they may feel awkward about or even undermined by China's massive projects like the BRI. However, China's development has profited different countries too.

China is not entitled to equally circulate the advantages of globalization. The ideal approach to manage China's ascent is not to block it but to work with China and shape Asia's developing political and economic orders together. Advancing, both China and the "Quad" must reaffirm their sense of duty regarding collaboration and cooperation as the best way to address their disparities and advance common development.

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