Earlier this week, the U.S. State Department acknowledged an informal meeting held between the U.S., India, Australia, and Japan to discuss curbing and regulating China’s growing regional influence. These countries, collectively known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or ‘the Quad’ for short, have committed to increasing their role in maritime security, cyberspace regulation, infrastructure improvement, and peaceful dispute resolution in the Indo-Pacific region. China has not formally responded to these events, though there is reason to believe they have denounced the ideas surrounding the containment of their influence and are at odds with the plan.
The members of the Quad are open to increased membership and hope to deepen cooperation and interaction with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) member states. It is the sharing of values, respect for international law, and joint commitment that will lead to peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region, thus creating a more open and free environment. Speaking with respect to this issue, Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide said the goals are “widely recognized by the international community as a vision of peace and prosperity for this region.”
The announcement of the Quad’s goals and renewed commitment comes at a time when the four countries involved are more at odds with China today, than in times past. The U.S. has for a long time taken issue with China, especially where trade, human rights, and security are concerned. India and China have long been economic allies, but their relationship has tensed recently after a disagreement turned deadly at the Himalayan border. Australia and China were relatively neutral until the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, which led Australia to call for an investigation into the advent of the virus (and thus China’s role), resulting in the latter placing some restrictions on trade with Australia. Japan has expressed growing concern for China’s territorial claims over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, of which Japan has long been in charge. Additionally, Japan is a unique case in that it seeks to stay on good terms with China, its major trading partner, while also keeping the U.S., its largest security ally, happy.
It is difficult to speculate about the implications of the Quad’s meeting. They have not released a detailed plan regarding how they plan to tackle the lofty goals they have agreed upon. They also have not provided a timeline in which they hope to complete these goals. It is also not clear if the objectives are to be tackled at the individual state level, or as a group. Due to the vague nature of the announcement, it is hard to predict how China will continue to take the news. It is unlikely they would go on the offensive, especially if they’re standing against four global powers. However, it is also unlikely that China will accept the Quad’s effort or defer from using threats such as trade sanctions. Some territorial conflicts may ensure, especially if Japan seeks to legitimize their claim of the Senkaku islands. These questions and issues will all become clearer as the Quad moves to take action.
Taken on balance, it is encouraging to see four influential countries coming together to address, in a peaceful manner, the concerning, rapid growth of an authoritarian regime. China has long been accused of being a political bully and a rampant human rights violator. Its growing regional influence is nothing to be dismissive of, but it does not yet warrant a full blown intervention. These countries are coming together to use the tools of diplomacy to communicate that they are paying attention and making an effort. They are not resorting to conflict, involving civilians, or creating unstable situations that could easily escalate to violence. If done right, the world may see the positive effects of properly carried out international relations.
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