Illustration: Chen Xia/GT
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, also known as Quad, between the US, Japan, India, and Australia has been seen as a group to counter China. But the four-country group hasn’t formed a cohesive force from within. Instead, the four have been busy with their own calculations.
The US will hold the first leaders-level meeting of the Quad on Friday. Various topics involving China will be discussed. Days before the meeting, Japan, India, and Australia couldn’t help but again hype the “China threat.”
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga spoke with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on the telephone on Tuesday, when they shared “serious concerns regarding unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East and South China seas, China’s Coast Guard Law and the situation in Hong Kong and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.”
On the same day, Japan’s ambassador to Australia, Shingo Yamagami, told The Australian Financial Review Business Summit that Australia “is not walking alone” in dealing with China as Japan had similar experiences “about 10 years ago.”
These interactions before the Quad summit have reiterated the cliché over China, trying to create an image that the group is united. The three countries aim to strengthen deterrence against China by bolstering each other’s boldness. They were also aiding the US strategy to step up pressure on China.
The current framework of the Quad was built during Trump’s presidency to serve US strategic competition with China. The US is fond of forming an alliance against a certain country, because it believes it can stack the odds in its favor and economize the consumption of its diplomatic and financial resources. Prompted by the intent to contain China, the Biden administration has continued this aggressive and confrontational posture.
But today, as the interests of countries are diversified, it is impossible for them to blindly follow the US’ steps just because of Washington’s claims. There is not much the US can give to its allies in exchange. Not to mention that the US’ selfish nature has become increasingly known to the world.
Against this backdrop, US allies who have a complex relationship with China apparently cannot count on the US to compensate for their losses when they follow Washington to confront China. Hence, it is not in line with their pursuits to judge what they should do from only the dimension of US geopolitical struggles against China.
Even though Canberra is a resolute follower of Washington, people in Australia are struggling with the deterioration in China-Australia relations. For example, on the same occasion when Yamagami tried to show sympathy to Australia, Jane Golley, director of the Australian Centre on China in the World at the Australian National University, called for an end to the megaphone diplomacy on China and for trying to work behind the scenes.
Japan and India’s attitudes toward China are more complicated. It is obviously not in their interests to make them stand one-sidedly against China. Particularly India. New Delhi’s move to reopen the door to Chinese investment after border disengagement has clearly shown that India needs cooperation with China rather than long-standing confrontation.
The Quad is not an alliance of like-minded countries as the US claims. The three countries other than the US would probably take a tactic of coordinating with the US in narratives while sticking to their own approaches on China, so as to deal with the embarrassment of being between the pressure from the US and their own interests with China.
Before they can assure that they will not be brought into another pit by the US, perhaps they have no other choice but to find relief in bolstering each other’s boldness.