30.09.2021 Author: Vladimir Terehov

On the Second Summit of the QUAD Participants

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On September 24, the second summit of the QUAD leaders, including Australia, India, Japan and the United States, was held in Washington. It is important to note that, unlike the first summit held six months earlier, the event at hand was a live face-to-face meeting.

The NEO has been observing this project fairly regularly since it was updated (a year and a half ago) after fifteen years in a state of non-existence. That said, it seems quite obvious why it was necessary to extract it now from the stock of other projects.

Similarly, the US is also responding to the undeniable emergence of a new global power, the PRC. Much like the current world leader’s predecessors, this response is “historically conventional”: it is necessary to build a barrier to contain the spread of the influence of “undistinguished” competitors. Such a barrier in the way of the rapidly increasing prestige of the USSR was first Nazi Germany, and after its defeat, the NATO bloc, which served the same function.

In the current context, the role of the embryo of “Asian NATO” (this time anti-Chinese) was originally intended for QUAD. But this “historically conventional” logic was substantially complicated by the draftsman himself, who on September 15 this year announced the joint intention with the United Kingdom and Australia to “deepen diplomatic, security, and defense cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.”

So what should be the base of the future “Asian NATO”, QUAD or AUKUS (Australia, the UK and the US)? Both of these configurations so far fit the definition of “undistinguished”. Because there are no founding documents that have been ratified by participating countries. Such as those that form the basis of NATO and the US-Japanese alliance.

In fact, the above question was at the heart of the intrigue that arose with the announcement of the formation of AUKUS. In particular, it has been suggested that Japan and India, i.e. two of the QUAD participants, may have a negative perception of the emergence of a “competing” configuration, apparently prepared in secret. However, Japan welcomed this fact after some reflection.

The author knows nothing about India’s official reaction to it. Although the emergence of the AUKUS configuration is mentioned in expert circles in the country among others (such as the consequences of the accelerated US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the “aggressiveness of China”) as an important component of the political background that accompanies the second QUAD summit.

The results of this event could in some way or other answer the question posed above, as well as the part of it that concerns India. Perhaps someone has already fully explained it to themselves (it wasn’t the author of this article).

Journalists tried to extract something meaningful from the connection of this issue to the AUKUS project during the September 22 regular press conference of White House spokesperson Jen Psaki. Her rather inarticulate words on the subject are interpreted as Washington’s lack of intention to involve India and Japan in AUKUS.

In connection with the latter, let us draw attention to the fears expressed in India about the possible “militarization” of QUAD. Such fears are quite reasonable, given that Delhi seems to clearly understand the “redlines” which, if crossed, threaten an irreversible deterioration in relations with Beijing.

Once again, however, we should note that India is already not that far away from them. For example, the original US-Indian naval exercises Malabar 2020 and 2021 involved Japan and Australia. In other words, they were in fact QUAD events, but not officially designated as such.

Because of all of the above, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s September 22 trip to the United States (already the seventh since he assumed the highest government position in India in 2014) deserves special attention. In Washington, he not only attended the QUAD summit, but also held talks with President Biden and Vice President Harris, and in New York he addressed the regular session of the UN General Assembly. He also met with the prime ministers of Australia and Japan.

The commentary notes that since Biden was declared the winner of the last US general election in November 2020, Modi has already communicated with the US president three times (on various occasions, including on the occasion of the first QUAD summit), but by videoconference. The latter took place, again, in the format of a face-to-face meeting.

The meeting with Kamala Harris was rather symbolic, since she is half Indian. In general, in the current US administration the number of officials of Indian origin occupying various positions runs into the dozens. This clearly demonstrates the long-standing and special interest of the US in developing a multifaceted relationship with India. As Biden noted in a meeting with Modi, “4 million Indian-American who make United States stronger.”

The Sino-Indian quarrel which took place on the eve of QUAD) over the culprit of last year’s clashes in Ladakh particularly illustrates that Washington’s views on strengthening all-round ties with Delhi have good grounds.

As for Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, his trip to the US was the last significant event not only during his one-year tenure at the top government post, but, evidently, in his political career as a whole. As previously noted in the NEO, at the beginning of September Suga announced his refusal to run for the presidency of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which is to be determined at a party event on September 29. Consequently, he has no prospect of remaining prime minister of the country, regardless of the outcome of the upcoming general election.

The White House’s press statement on the eve of the QUAD summit, written in general terms, drew attention to a number of points. First, the upcoming event itself is characterized as “an informal meeting with no military component”. Second, the US work in the QUAD format appears as evidence of the special focus on “diplomacy” (as previously mentioned by Biden at the UNGA session), which will now be favored by the US administration. Third, it is pointed out that QUAD and AUKUS “do not overlap with each other,” despite the presence of the US and Australia in both.

On the whole, again, the documents published on the subject of the second QUAD summit, including the extensive Joint Statement, did not add much clarity on the classification of this configuration. Perhaps the only thing that is more or less obvious comes down to stating the emergence of “something anti-Chinese”. Although the PRC itself is not directly identified as a source of various kinds of concerns of QUAD participants.

As for the previously mentioned prospect of the “militarization” of QUAD, the Joint Statement does not seem (and at first glance) to hint at this topic. But the reproduction in this document of an already established meme about the problem of “freedom of navigation” immediately evokes associations with the increasing frequency of various kinds of joint military exercises (e.g., “Malabar”) of the QUAD participants. In this case, we repeat, the organizers of such exercises do not use this abbreviation. But it is invariably used in the comments of (unaccountable) “experts”.

China calls all the barely concealed claims against it far-fetched. For example, on the topics of “threats to navigation” and “supply chain disruptions”. Beijing believes that Washington’s formation of QUAD (as well as AUKUS) is based on the “paranoid” idea of a strategic encirclement of the PRC. In particular, Beijing should be expected to react adversely to the statement of the leadership of Taiwan’s mission in the US about its desire to establish a “partnership” with QUAD.

Unfortunately, it seems that China is not mistaken in its assessment of both of these projects, the very fact of their appearance is hardly conducive to the formation of an environment of trust in the region.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

 


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