The Quad virtual meeting not only reaffirmed the concept of Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategies, but also accommodated crucial issues in the region. Some of the Quad initiations probably aimed at countering China, but does not necessarily pose a serious threat to China.

Elpeni Fitrah – Taiwan Center for Security Studies

The Quad or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, an informal strategic forum of four nations: The US, India, Japan, and Australia, has successfully organized a virtual summit last Friday. This was the first official meeting of the four leaders, currently along with US President Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The US under the new Biden administration proposed this summit since the first week of Biden moving into the White House earlier this year. In the past, the highest level of this bloc meeting was among the foreign ministers of the four countries and has conducted semi-regular summits and information exchanges since 2007. Acting as the initiator and host of this meeting, the US obviously demonstrated its leadership in directing Indo-Pacific affairs. 

As it appears on the Joint Statements released by the White House official site, titled: “the Spirit of the Quad,” the group leaders reaffirmed its strong commitment to the vital challenge on Indo-Pacific affairs. They agreed on tackling a variety of issues, including development, cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, COVID-19 vaccination programme, climate change, technology and assured supply chain management. They also paid attention to issues such as restoring democracy in Myanmar, denuclearization of North Korea, and cybersecurity. Some people interpreted that the specific aim of this forum is actually to encounter China’s growing military and economic power in the global political arena, even though the transcript of joint statements did not mention China at all. Nevertheless, it is not easy to alienate China, as each Quad member has articulated unique outlooks on the Indo-Pacific region. One absolute fact is that the rise of China in the past two decades has been a matter of concern for all four Quad partners.

Within the communique, the bloc announced its common vision on Indo-Pacific construction with the term “Free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion.” Besides strengthening the group’s internal cohesiveness, this association also expanded its political network and external collaboration by mentioning “strong support for ASEAN’s unity and centrality, as well as ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.” This phrase is meant to show a serious commitment of the Quad leaders to work with other countries who share the same goals and idealism.

Furthermore, the Quad also commits to provide “equitable vaccine access” for the benefit of other Asian and Pacific island countries by involving the World Health Organization and COVAX. Interestingly, this statement was followed by a call for “transparent and results-oriented reform at the World Health Organization.” So far, China has been accused of dominating this international institution. The US National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan said that the vaccine initiative was expected to deliver up to a billion doses by the end of 2022, with Indian manufacturing, U.S. technology, Japanese and American financing, and Australian logistics support. This effort probably aims to encourage alternative medical supply chains to reduce dependency on China, which are now encapsulating vaccine diplomacy as a tool of soft power.  

Moreover, the statement implicitly showed the alliance’s position on the East and South China Sea where China has been embroiled in territorial disputes with other countries. This is one of the crucial issues pointed by the Quad since China was accused of violating international law as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The ratification of Chinese Coast Guard Law in the previous month is believed to have influenced Asia’s maritime resilience and potentially raises tension of an all-out conflict.  

This diplomatic initiative does look promising in the first stage, especially for the US who need to win back allies after previously disrupted by Trump’s “transactional” diplomacy characteristics. Nonetheless, the Quad still embraces much challenging homework related to how this group will execute “democratic values” as its binding ethos comprehensively, not just an anti-China platform. Besides, when the ambition of this bloc is to become a dominant player in Asia, it is crucial to understand what exactly Asia really wants.