GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 614, 12 February 2022

Quad summit in Australia: Focus on the Indo-Pacific 
Avishka Ashok

What happened?
On 11 February, the Quad countries comprising the US, Australia, Japan and India met in Melbourne and discussed their strategy to deepen the cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. The meeting resulted in a joint statement that pledged to cooperate on humanitarian relief, ensuring a free Indo-Pacific, providing disaster assistance and also condemned the “destabilizing ballistic missile launches” in North Korea. 

The joint statement discretely referred to China’s hostile responses to Australia and Lithuania and said: “The Quad partners oppose coercive economic policies that run counter to the World Trade Organization system, and will work collectively to foster global economic resilience against such actions.”

The Foreign Minister of Australia Marise Payne said: “We agreed to boost maritime security support for Indo Pacific partners to strengthen their maritime domain awareness and ability to develop their offshore resources, to ensure freedom of navigation and overflight and to combat challenges such as illegal fishing.” On the question of an inevitable confrontation in the Indo-Pacific region. the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken replied that “Nothing is inevitable. Having said that, I think we share concerns that in recent years China has been acting more aggressively at home and more aggressively in the region.” 

On the same day, Wang Yi responded to the US accusation of China coercing Australia via economic restrictions and said “No one has a better claim to the title of master of coercion than the US.”

What is the background?
First, the constantly evolving idea of Quad. It originated as a disaster response to the 2004 Tsunami when India was helped by the US, Japan and Australia in conducting rescue operations and providing relief. Although the Quad does not qualify as an organization, the group of countries have evolved in recent decades. The Quad was revived by US President Joe Biden after coming to power. He, along with the other countries have repeatedly raised concern over China’s aggression in the South China Sea and in the Indo-Pacific region. However, the aim of securing the Indo-Pacific and the threat of Chinese aggression in the region are relatively new additions. Resolving these issues have, now, become the core aim for the Quad. 

Second, the focus on the Indo-Pacific. The members of the Quad view the Indo-Pacific region as a significant part of their national interests due to the geographic proximity to the region and the vital role it plays in the trade and transport industry. Japan, which shares a border with the South China Sea, and has constantly objected China’s interference near the Senkaku Islands and urged China to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific. The US, Australia and India have been in a state of continual disagreement with China in the past few years over numerous issues. The emphasis on democracy and human rights has increased in the past few years as the countries constantly take up these issues at bilateral and multilateral meetings. 

Third, China and the Quad. Beijing has continually objected the Quad’s tone of hostility towards the country and its policies in the South China Sea. The country has repeatedly shot down the Quad’s concerns regarding the Taiwan Strait and pointedly demanded the countries to abstain from involving themselves with the country’s internal affairs. The Japanese Diet recently passed a resolution that raised its voice against the injustices in Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The Quad has also tried to involve more countries in their aim of protesting and resisting China. The group primarily targets the Southeast Asian and ASEAN countries as they are more directly involved in the region and with China.

What does it mean?
First, tensions in the Indo-Pacific is bound to rise in 2022 as the Quad countries continue to unite and cooperate with each other while countering China’s growing economic and political influence in the region. The Quad, which was created with a different agenda in 2004 and currently existing with a completely different set of agendas, is bound to shore up their defenses in the region. Second, the Chinese influence binds the group together and brings them closer. The group may present itself as a resistance to China’s threats but it is uncertain if China can be contained for long; considering its recent responses in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Tibet and Taiwan.