Thursday, October 28, 2021

In the vision of a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’, the Quad leaders send a clear signal to China

The Quad has come a long way since being revived in 2017 as a loose alliance of the US, Australia, India and Japan. Last weekend’s one-on-one, leaders’ summit marked a new high point for the group.

The three members are facing Chinese pressure in various forms: economic coercion in the case of Australia, and the use of military and gray-zone tactics to advance territorial claims when it comes to India and Japan.

It is an open secret that the primary and groundbreaking argument of the Quad d’एtre is countering China. As a response, Beijing fluctuates between outright skepticism and despicable outrage about the return of a “cold war mentality” in the region.

Read more: Explainer: what exactly is the Quad and what is on the agenda for their Washington summit?

For example, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian described the latest meeting in Washington as a “closed, exclusive bloc targeting other countries”. he added the quad

It runs contrary to the trend of the times and the aspirations of the regional countries. It will get no support and is doomed to fail.

Beijing is wary of the Quad for good reason. While the Quad countries avoid mentioning China directly, Beijing knows that the group seeks to set regional agendas, promote its own authoritarian norms and values, and counter its ability to dominate the most important technologies of the future.

China’s objectives present a broad challenge to the US-led liberal system in everything from diplomacy and trade to technology and military power. It is this ambition of China that has given impetus to the Quad.

Four leaders of the Quad countries gathered in the East Room of the White House.
Sarabeth Mane/Pool/EPA

Commitment to tackle global problems

Friday’s summit made considerable progress on initiatives marked during the first Quad leaders’ virtual meeting in March. It expanded the Quad agenda to include a wider range of aspects to meet China’s challenge.

These initiatives can be divided into three broad categories:

First, the Quad wants to show that liberal democracy can provide solutions to the greatest challenges of our time, and that their vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” is more appealing than Beijing’s-centric model of a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.

As part of this, the Quad countries have stepped up their COVID-19 vaccine pledge, now pledging to donate 1.2 billion vaccine doses globally by the end of 2022.

While India has pledged to resume vaccine production for export in October, Japan has pledged US$3.3 billion (A$4.5 billion) in loans and Australia in grants of US$212 million (A291 million). -Pacific countries have been set aside to buy vaccines.

Given the existential threat of COVID-19 still present in much of the region, it represents a tempting counter to Beijing’s vaccine diplomacy, which has been used to exert political influence.

Read more: Why it would be a mistake to insist on an economic ‘alliance’ with the US to counter Chinese coercion

And on climate change, the Quad announced three notable initiatives:

  • A task force dedicated to establishing “two to three low-emissions or zero-emissions shipping corridors by 2030” through the development of green-port infrastructure and largely clean bunkering fuels

  • A clean-hydrogen partnership to “strengthen and reduce costs across all elements of the clean-hydrogen value chain”

  • A new cooperative space initiative to exchange satellite data to monitor climate change risks and manage sustainable use of oceans and marine resources.

Secure Technologies and Supply Chains

The second category of initiatives includes measures to promote an open, accessible and secure technology ecosystem – a response to growing security concerns about the use of Chinese telecommunications companies’ equipment to build 5G networks around the world.

The group pledged to work towards advancing more “secure, open and transparent 5G and beyond-5G networks” – an indirect reference for Chinese vendors to develop an alternative.

And to prevent China from dominating the critical and essential technologies of the future, Quad also launched an initiative to enhance vulnerabilities and security in these supply chains, particularly semiconductors.

A Counterpoint to the Belt and Road

Finally, the third category of initiatives is aimed at the creation and promotion of liberal rules, norms and economic standards across the region.

This includes the development of standards on quality infrastructure development, technology standards for the collection of big data, the use of artificial intelligence, and the development of shared cyber standards for the development of “trusted digital infrastructure”.

All of these programs are designed to counter Chinese economic practices (through its Belt and Road Initiative) and high-technology exports that undermine liberal democratic practices and lead to government corruption and authoritarian-style control and control of the population. enable monitoring.

Read more: Why is there so much ruckus over China’s Belt and Road Initiative?

However, an economic component capable of competing directly with China’s Belt and Road Initiative is still missing. The lack of a more comprehensive, quad-based economic strategy remains the biggest weakness in its pitch to pursue a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.

Without it, the Quad cannot compete with Beijing’s assertion in the region that the road to economic prosperity depends primarily on China.

Still no ‘safety mechanism’

Also notably absent from the summit was the discussion of greater military-strategic cooperation.

Before the meeting, a US administration official stressed that “the group is not a security meeting or a security mechanism”.

The Quad is certainly not aligned and it is unlikely to become “Asian NATO” despite Chinese claims that this is what it aims to do.

Nevertheless, the four countries have upgraded their capabilities to conduct joint military operations such as the Malabar naval exercise. They have also strengthened their cooperation in other areas – such as military logistics and maritime surveillance and intelligence sharing – although this has so far been in bilateral and trilateral formats.

And the significant announcement of the AUKUS alliance between the US, UK and Australia will certainly complement the deterrence capabilities of the Quad.

In all these initiatives, the Quad leaders have succeeded in dispelling Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s prediction that the group will “dissipate like sea foam”.

Instead, it has become a de facto democratic shield against Chinese expansionism and is forcing Beijing to recalculate the costs of its actions.

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