Recapping the discussion on the quadrilateral security dialogue, featuring Dr Maria Rost Rublee, Dr Akira Igata, Ms Hayley Channer and Ms Sonia Arakkal.
Four panelists involved in today’s discussion on the quadrilateral security dialogue:
Dr Maria Rost Rublee (Associate Professor of International Relations at Monash University)
Dr Akira Igata (Visiting Professor & Executive Director at the Centre for Rule-making Strategies at Tama University)
Ms Hayley Channer (Senior Policy Fellow at Perth USAsia Centre)
Ms Sonia Arakkal (Policy Fellow at Perth USAsia Centre)
Ms Hayley Channer opening remarks on Quad 2.0 and the issues it is facing
Critical grouping for our four countries now and into the future.
Ms Channer has interviews many people in Canberra on this topic, including from the Indian High Commission, Japanese Embassy, US Embassy and South-East Asian embassies.
Leaders summit at the start of this year saw the leaders commit to meet in person before the end of 2021. There were some flagship projects announced by the Quad at this summit on:
COVID 19 vaccines for the region and commitment to deliver 1 billion of them by the end of 2022.
Working groups on emerging tech and climate change.
Three main points I would like to make:
Quad cannot be all things to all people, and it shouldn’t try to be
Quad received a lot of criticism due to ambiguity about what it is. People have described it as a strategic grouping to act as a military counter to China, a values driven framework to enforce rules and norms of behavior in our region, going to provide public goods like the vaccine and a response to climate change, provide new technology like the 5G network. Also has a history after being a disaster response grouping after the 2004 tsunami and other humanitarian disaster.
Also, the issue of Quad plus, creating new cooperative networks in the region as opposed to the traditional bilateral relationships and the US style hub and spoke alliance system.
All of these things the Quad is associated with or has attempted to be, and all of these goals together are too ambitious
The Quad should initially focus on one of the above. This will help it to better define itself, as well as get a better run on the board in terms of the activities it undertakes.
In the past the ambiguity and lack of formality may have worked to its favor as it gave the countries some latitude, and has allowed it to disperse and come back together a couple of times. But this has increased the expectations on the quad, especially after the leaders have come together and made such significant commitments.
Ambiguity of the role of the Quad will fuel China’s rhetoric that the Quad is an anti-China coalition, and will make it more difficult for Southeast Asia and the Pacific to partner with the Quad on areas of mutual interest.
Many countries still ask what the Quad is and that is a problem
China calls the Quad an anti-China alliance
Regional countries ask themselves whether Quad will be net negative or positive for them. Not just interested in whether they will receive the vaccine or technology advances – regional countries want to know if the Quad is going in a direction that is going to feed into their own national strategies and how they can partner with the Quad.
There is still some consolidation that needs to be ironed-out within the Quad and made clearer.
Ms Channer would describe the Quad as a strategic grouping reacting in an adhoc manner in amongst rapidly shifting regional dynamics, with ambitions to promote the shared interests of its members. So its an evolving grouping. But publicly it needs to better define its priority and purpose.
Where to from here for the Quad, what should it look to do to follow up on the gains it made in March 2021
Quad needs its own website so it can define its framework. Having a single source of truth across the four countries will be beneficial. Can have information on previous meetings, opeds, and facilitate connection of the Quad with industry.
The leaders need to deliver on the commitments it has already made, like the COVID rollout. Need to provide confidence that this is on track. Should not make new commitments, as the working groups of the quad are already very broad as it is.
Dr Akira Igata’s perspective from Tokyo
Japan is busy with the Olympics but also going through political changes
Election in Fall, PM Suga’s popularity has fallen below the redline of 30%, despite boost the party was expecting from the Olympics. Slowdown of vaccinations and the surge in covid cases is likely to be the cause, this may lead to a change in leadership under the ODP if this trajectory continues.
Second change is a shift in the national security secretariat (NSS) last month. The head has been Mr Kitamura with intel background, which has changed to Mr Akiba. There are increasing calls from the LDP for the development of a national economic security strategy, separate to the national security strategy, before the end of the year.
All of these changes will have impacts on all policy areas and the Quad.
But Japan is unlikely to abandon its Quad formula as it has been one of the main instruments to realise the concept of the open and free Indo-Pacific (FOIP), so as long as JPN sticks to FOIP Quad will have a role.
JPN government has worked hard to get various countries to embrace FOIP. It went from being referred to as a strategy down to a vision.
Suga referred to peace and prosperous Indo Pacific in 2020 instead of FOIP, and this led to criticism at a hearing at the house of representatives, so Suga has gone back to using FOIP.
This shows Japan’s commitment to FOIP and Quad.
So how will Quad be used within FOIP? Japan is facing to diplomatic issues related to economic security and human rights. The key is determining what is best dealt with Quad.
Threat perception of China has increased, so US, Japan and Aus are increasingly willing to engage in strategic groupings. However there is a question around whether India shares this view.
Dr Maria Rost Rublee US views
People have said Quad will not last, but Dr Rubee does not believe this. Quad is not Asian NATO, but is not likely to fall apart.
US is really committed to the Quad, not just Biden but the broader US national security establishment. They want to invest in and see Quad succeed.
Quad revitalization was started by Trump in 2017, but Biden wants to continue this and make Quad a critical part of the Indo Pacific security architecture of US.
Trump made a number of US allies uneasy during his term, so reengaging with the Quad was important for Quad. Bidden showed his commitment to US alliances by making his first multilateral meeting as president a meeting with Quad members.
Shows US’s commitment to allies and working in partnership, and to think about China.
Almost impossible to overemphasize US concern of China. Democrats and Republicans agree on the China issue. This rare bipartisan agreement in the national security establishment means the Quad is important to the US.
Quad aligns with Bidens value of democracy and international diplomacy. Goal is to team up with partners, not to confront China but to alter the international environment so it is more difficult for Beijing to act in ways that are breaking international norms. Interest for Quad to be more than about military – that is why there is talk of infrastructure investment, vaccines etc. Biden and Quad partners published a joint oped in the Washington post which has never happened before. This is a really strong signal of the interest from all the Quad members.
Ms Sonia Arakkal Indian perspective
Was India the weakest link? Yes, in Quad 1.0. Why is this? India dragged their feet most in 2018 when Trump tried to revive the Quad. This is said to be because xi jinping invited PM Modi to Wuhan for a summit. No statements were put out but this meeting was a huge statement considering the effort to try and revive Quad 2.0. Further, after this summit India rejected Australia’s request to join the Malabar naval military exercises, which happens between Japan, US and India. On the back of the summit it was quite a statement.
However at the end of August, Australia will be participating in the Malabar exercises, following Quad meetings last year.
This indicates there has been a change. Why? Probably because of escalating border skirmishes between China and India.
India is the only Quad member that has entered into armed combat with China in recent years, so this has likely caused India to recommit to Quad. Also, the Indian Ocean is becoming more strategically important. All of India’s recent effort has been on land, so they have realized the need to refocus on the ocean and they need help from allies.
India sees the Quad as an important vehicle to reestablish strategic importance in the Indian Ocean.
Can’t underemphasize how much of a change in foreign policy this is – during the cold war India decided not to take sides. PM Modi engaging with Quad 2.0 departs from decades of India’s foreign policy.
India’s growing relationship with the US is also key, US secretary of state met with Dalai Lama in India which angered China. US is committed to supporting India secure its borders.
However, devastating third COVID wave may have significantly disrupted India’s involvement in Quad. It has destroyed Indian economy. Now PM has to recover economy that is heavily reliant on China. How will India continue commitments to quad but balance strategic interests?
However, the issue of democracy may drive India out of Quad. Quad members hold strong democratic values so India’s questionable developments in freedom of speech may affect the relationships.
India is no longer the weakest link – India needs the Quad, but they engage with Quad differently to the other countries. The language they use is ‘strategic autonomy’.
Language used by leaders is indicative of their position, India talks about an inclusive Indo Pacific, pluralistic Indo Pacific – this shows it is trying to shy away from the great power dynamic that is unfolding.
With all the diverse interest and perspectives, will Quad be able to over come these varied interests?
Hayley: do the interests make Quad work together or apart? Quad members might have different ideas of how to solve problems. The Australia-US relationship is strong, but they may have very different ways of approaching an issue. Different priorities might be a problem. Both AUS and US have broad and different interests, they need to priorities and narrow down where their interests align. There can be different opinions between government agencies in the four countries let alone between different countries.
Maria: Agree. Countries agree China is an issue but can’t agree on how to solve the issue. The key is that Beijing controls the tempo/game. Because if China acts in aggressive ways, Quad members are likely to push past differences. However if China becomes less aggressive, the Quad is more likely to fall apart.
Akira agrees – looking for concrete action is the way to go. Expand existing bilateral and trilateral relationships in the Quad, like the Blue Dot Network which Japan, US and Australia talking about infrastructure – they could get India involved. Or the Supply Chain Resiliency Initiative, they could get US involved. There are lower hanging fruit that can be involved.
Sonia: building on Akira’s comments, a lot of the valuable work will happen between the bilateral and trilaterals as these are not threatening to the Indo Pacific. Quad is not going to be a big ASEAN deliverer; it will simmer along and it is more likely the bilateral and trilateral relationships will do more investing. If there is a stepping down of the wolf warrior policy from China, Quad is likely to dilute. To mitigate loss of Quad credibility, bilateral and trilaterals will probably step in and do heavy lifting.
What do you think is China’s strategy re Quad
Maria: China will not back down from its actions. Even those critical of Quad saying Quad is provoking China, even they argue that China is doing the things it is doing due to specific territorial and economic interests. Quad as a reaction to this is not going to change China’s actions.
Bangladesh was warned by China to stay away from Quad, this was seen as quite unusual.
Sonia: Bangladesh is a good example of how bi and trilaterals fill the space. Japan, India an Bangladesh have invested in infrastructure in the North East regions because these relationships aren’t as threatening as the Quad.
What has COVID done to Quad?
Akira: It has been contributing and preventative factor. I have been advising Japanese government agencies, it has been very difficult to conduct diplomacy in Japan. It has stopped for 1.5 years. Within the ministries, there are rotations of staff who are in the office. COVID has been a major issue for diplomatic engagement in Quad.
Supply chain resiliency: Quad has been pushing diversification and now with COVID it is more justified, whereas before it looked like an anti-China measure. Japanese companies are getting grants if they buy from other countries in Southeast Asia. About narrative and framing.
What is role of Quad plus?
Hayley: is a misnomer because it is undermining Quad plus members (like they are just engaging with one Quad member). It is politically charged. The premise is Aus, Japan, US and India AND other countries – it should be a good thing as it brings in more resources and expertise. Shouldn’t be called Quad plus as it is off-putting to countries that don’t want to be involved in the Quad, like South Korea. South Korea wants to keep China on side to help with issues like North Korea.
What role is there for young people and non-government actors
Maria: really important. Diversity in security studies is important. Diverse teams are more likely to innovate and have better solutions and outcomes. Youth voices is important. Let’s put together grant proposals so youth can be involved in Quad. Should draw attention that Quad country youths have ideas and they are valuable.
Sonia: anxiety of moving away with peace. Young people should care because they are the ones who may be involved in war. Young people need to hold leaders to account on foreign policy. If leaders get it wrong, it is young people that are on the line. Its not just domestic issues that should matter to voters. Politicians will be more aware if their votes depend on it.
Is there space for Quad to respond to non-traditional security issues like climate change natural disasters etc
Hayley: Quad is already doing that with COVID, and the March announcement was hugely well received in the pacific. It moves away from military action as well. The cooperation was explained – why it was happening under a Quad umbrella, and it made sense.
Still, Quad needs to be careful of overcommitting. March was the first announcement on action. It has mostly been just dialogue, but if Quad can show a real-world benefit that is not provocative this is beneficial. So nontraditional action is ideal at this time.
Sonia: cant underestimate the baggage of being in the Quad. Non-traditional action helps alleviate some of this. COVID has been good for Quad. It started after the Tsunami in 2004. COVID is Quad being authentic to its origin, rather than being provocative.
Hayley – so much hesitation and skepticism around the Quad. Push factors in relation to China and pull factors re the Quad countries working together collaboratively. The countries are trying to tell the region it is more about the pull factor, but the region believes this is not very transparent. Quad members have been more transparent and honest recently, and they have said it is more about China. Quad needs to embrace and accept the reason for their being is because of China being assertive and they cannot face this challenge alone.