Indian Navy / via AP
President Biden will intensify his efforts to balance China by coordinating with like-minded nations on Friday when he participates in the first ever summit of its kind with the leaders of Australia, India and Japan.
The four countries have intermittently cooperated since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in an informal gathering known as the “Quartet,” an acronym for the Quartet of Security Dialogue.
The group’s activity, including regional military exercises, is his expanded Since 2017, however, the Quartet heads of state have never held a summit. Analysts say the hypothetical meeting this week reflects growing concerns about China’s growing insistence in the Asia-Pacific region and cohesion around the notion that a common push is needed.
White House Press Secretary Jane Sackey told reporters this week that the fact that Biden – barely 50 days in office – “made this one of his first multilateral engagements that speaks to the importance we attach to close cooperation with our allies and partners in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.”
Reports indicate Quartet leaders may announce funding agreements to boost India’s manufacture of coronavirus vaccines, part of what some see as a quadruple response to Beijing’s efforts to score diplomatic points through Show China-made vaccines for the developing world.
It is also possible to discuss a host of other issues, including trade and climate change.
Quartet senior officials have met several times in recent years, and the armies of the four nations have held out Joint exercises In the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Lavina Lee, a senior lecturer in politics and international relations at Australian Macquarie University, says the decision to hold the Leaders’ Summit now is an apparent “escalation” targeting Beijing directly.
“It’s a way of saying to China: Well, we started the Quartet, and we were hoping to send you a signal that we had concerns, and we were hoping that you would respond by undoing some of the worst aspects of your expansionary kind of behavior,” she says. “And what has happened since 2017 is that there has been no retreat in China’s behavior. In fact, it’s escalating, not de-escalating.”
In recent months, relations between China and the Quartet have deteriorated.
China has imposed what analysts see as politically motivated sanctions on a host of Australian goods, including barley, crab and wine, after Australian leaders called for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
Japan has been alarmed in recent months over the increasing number of raids by Chinese military ships and aircraft over the disputed waters in the East China Sea.
Tensions have escalated between China and India since last summer, when its nuclear-armed neighbors witnessed their first deadly clash in decades along the world’s longest unknown border. Twenty Indian soldiers were killed, It was also four Chinese.
“China’s behavior is forcing a stronger and more intense relationship between India and the United States – and India and the other two countries, Australia and Japan – than either might design or plan,” says Varghese George, deputy resident editor at Varghese George. Hindus New Delhi newspaper and author An Open Embrace: India-U.S. Relations in the Era of Modi and Trump.
“The current Indian political establishment is fully aware of the Chinese threat, and it is facing it as we speak,” says George.
As a pillar of its China policy, the Biden administration pledged to deepen coordination with partners and re-engage with multilateral organizations.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said that Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will travel to Japan and South Korea next week “to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to strengthening our alliances.”
Austin will travel to India. Meanwhile, Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan will meet with two of China’s top foreign policy officials in Alaska.
Facing the limits
Although new horizons are opened with the Leaders’ Summit this week, there are limits to what the Quartet can achieve, analysts say, and whether it can grow into a more formal NATO-style security group.
Jeff Kingston, Director of Asian Studies on the Japan campus at Temple University, says that Japanese politicians “like to talk assertively about China … but in terms of institutionalizing the Quartet along the lines of NATO, I don’t expect that to happen. I think there is a passion in Tokyo to do that.” So I think, for the foreseeable future, it will be an interesting concept, vision, and strategy, but I don’t think it will quickly translate into some sort of NATO arrangement. “
In a sheet Posted on Wednesday, Evan Feigenbaum and James Schwimlin of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace argue that the Quartet “suffered from a lack of purpose and a lack of definition.”
“If other countries in Asia see the Quartet as more than a mere store of talk to discuss the looming dangers posed by the rise of China during the occasional joint military exercise, it is unlikely that other countries will see its benefit or view it as a model for itself. Their choices and behavior, “they write.
“To lead, the Quartet countries must demonstrate by deeds, not just words, that they make significant contributions to solving the larger economic, transboundary, and environmental challenges that concern nearly everyone in the Indo-Pacific region.”
Lauren Fryer contributed reporting from Mumbai and Anthony Kuhn contributed reporting from Seoul.