Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi received the red carpet at the White House last week for the first face-to-face meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. President BidenJoe BidenPelosi votes on bipartisan infrastructure bill Thursday Pressure increases to cut diplomatic formalities for Afghans left behind President Biden makes the world a more dangerous place MOREThe decision to host the summit comes about six months after the Quad issued a joint statement from leaders pledging to “commit to promoting a free and open rules-based order” in the Indo-Pacific region.
For Biden, the leaders’ summit is a golden opportunity to elevate a broad theme of his presidency: using international partnerships to manage the challenges of the 21st century, especially China’s quest to become the dominant power in Asia. . But if the Biden administration seeks to turn the Quad into an anti-China balancing coalition or, more dramatically, a new NATO in Asia, it will face disappointment. While Australia, Japan and India all have strong disagreements with China and are increasingly concerned about Beijing’s behavior in the region, neither country seems particularly interested in letting Washington dictate its policy. in Asia. Unlike Washington, the Japanese, Indians and Australians live in the Indo-Pacific and need to be especially careful before rocking the boat with Beijing.
As China’s economic and military might increase, the nation is asserting itself more and more in its efforts to protect its own interests. Last year, Chinese Navy ships sailed the waters of the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands for 333 consecutive days, deployments that continue to test Tokyo’s defensive measures and response time. The Japanese Defense Ministry, in its latest annual white paper, stressed that “Chinese military trends … have become a matter of grave concern to the region.” India, meanwhile, still faces tens of thousands of Chinese troops across its disputed Himalayan border, where there were clashes last year. China is also continuing its campaign of economic pressure against Australia, passing tariffs and import restrictions on everything from Australian wine and barley to coal and seafood.
Those issues aside, Australia, Japan and India recognize that their friction with China would worsen if they used the Quad as a ship to take on Beijing. This is especially true in New Delhi, which is careful not to take sides between the two greatest world powers. Historically paranoid of US security promises, India follows a path of multi-alignment, which encourages improved relations with as many countries as possible in order to preserve flexibility, keep options open, and retain freedom of movement in a delicate part of the world. Whether India would follow Washington’s lead or put all its weight on the American camp would tear this doctrine apart. It would also have dangerous economic consequences for India at a time when its trade relations with China reached record levels ($ 57.48 billion) in the first quarter.
Japan has long-standing territorial arguments with Beijing and is undoubtedly becoming more and more outspoken about Taiwan, perhaps China’s most sensitive issue. Japan’s defense budget has also grown every year for the past nine consecutive years, largely as a result of China’s saber strikes. Yet just because the Japanese are buying more F-35s, long-range missiles, and warships doesn’t mean Tokyo is looking for a fight, especially a fight that would jeopardize the very export markets that underlie it. -extend the Japanese economy by 5,000 billion dollars. With China consuming more than 20% of Japan’s total exports last year, Tokyo’s limitations are very real.
Australia is arguably the only Quad member who might be willing to use the multilateral forum to push back against China. Canberra clearly had China in mind when it decided to pull out of a diesel submarine deal with France in favor of US and UK nuclear propulsion technology. While senior officials in the Biden administration insisted that the new AUKUS security pact between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia did not concern any country, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, practically openly stated that China’s behavior was the root cause of the deal.
Even so, Australia is unable to compete militarily with China – certainly not without substantial military and logistical assistance from the United States. The South China Sea is about 3,000 miles from Australia, which means the Australian Navy would have to make extraordinary efforts to become a serious contributor to a hypothetical anti-China military coalition. The economy of such a decision would not be lost to the Australian government; at $ 245 billion, China accounted for 31 percent of Australia’s total trade last year. If China was willing to impose trade restrictions in retaliation for Australia’s call for an international investigation into the coronavirus pandemic, it’s not hard to imagine Beijing taking even stronger action against the Australian economy if Canberra outsourced its Chinese policy to Washington.
None of this claims the Quad is useless. As common interests bind the United States, Australia, Japan and India, a regional forum such as the Quad can be a force multiplier, providing the four nations with the ability to collaborate and synchronize their approaches. But Biden would be wise to avoid turning this multilateral club into a formal security alliance. The other members are not interested in choosing their side. And Washington shouldn’t be forcing them to do it.
Daniel R. DePetris is a member of Defense Priorities and Foreign Affairs Columnist at Newsweek.