The leaders of Australia, India, Japan, and the United States will meet at the White House on Sept. 24 for the first in-person leaders’ summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, colloquially known as “the Quad,” to discuss issues ranging from emergent technologies and global supply chain security to climate change and the future of multilateral strategy regarding China.
Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), says the Quad is important in providing stability to the Indo-Pacific region amid destabilizing efforts of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
“There’s an urgency to the Quad now,” Green said in a press call on Sept. 22. “And it has become really one of the most important parts of the diplomatic toolkit for these four countries.
“One of the main reasons is that [Chinese leader] Xi Jinping has taken a much harsher line towards his neighbors, with violence against Indian troops in the Himalayan Mountains, a pronounced increase in PLA [People’s Liberation Army] military and paramilitary operations around Japan’s waters, a relentless embargo against Australia of exports of everything from wine to coal because of Australian government and expert criticism of China’s human rights, and so forth,” he said.
To that end, the White House issued a statement affirming that multilateral engagement in the Indo-Pacific is essential to meet the challenges of the 21st century, reinforcing the idea that the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific remains vital to the future of all nations in the region.
Securing the Indo-Pacific, Managing CCP Aggression
The CCP has labored to counter such a vision with its own, and to undermine or downplay the successes that the Quad has had in building relationships within the region.
“China has tended to engage in disinformation campaigns about the nature and purpose of the Quad,” said Bonny Lin, director of the China Power Project at CSIS.
“When you look at the Chinese information/disinformation space, China is trying to use all different messages to undermine how the Quad is perceived internationally and undermine how countries, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region, view the Quad.”
Lin explained that these efforts frequently sought to sow discord among the Quad nations, as well as to stoke fears among other regional alliances, such as ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), that the Quad would seek to replace them.
Despite such efforts, however, Green and Lin agreed that this week’s summit signals that the nations involved are ready to leverage the Quad as a key means of integrating their combined powers toward mitigating CCP aggression.
“The Chinese hate it,” Green said. “The Southeast Asians are getting used to it. But for the four leaders, this is now a central part of how they’re going to manage an increasingly ambitious and aggressive China.”
Green also noted that the informal nature of the Quad works well to develop healthy relationships between the individual countries involved, and speculated that the forum could garner increased cooperation with additional nations both inside and outside of the Indo-Pacific as specific crises or problems emerged.
“The Quad is not the only game in Asia,” Green said. “It’s also not a formal treaty. It’s a kind of an umbrella of these four powerful maritime democracies. And within that umbrella, the bilateral and trilateral relationships have continued to strengthen.”
Given that, and the increased legitimacy granted to the forum, vis-à-vis this week’s summit, Green and Lin believe that the Quad would work well in tandem with mission-specific treaties between more varied nations.
AUKUS a Boon, Not a Barrier
The most notable such treaty is AUKUS, the recent military agreement among Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, which will serve to equip Australia with a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.
Such submarines would grant a significant military capability to Australia, both as an independent power in the Indo-Pacific and as a Quad member. The CCP, meanwhile, has already begun a propaganda effort to belittle the perceived legitimacy of the deal.
“China is now messaging that AUKUS itself will undermine the Quad,” Lin said.
Despite this effort, Green noted that the Quad nations as a whole appeared to appreciate AUKUS due to its real power in countering CCP military capabilities in the Indo-Pacific, and that the increased naval power was a boon to all four of the Quad nations.
“[AUKUS] isn’t a Quad agreement, but I think the Quad countries that are not in AUKUS—Japan and India—are quite pleased with this,” Green said, “because it will really for the next 50 years reset the trajectories in naval power in the Pacific, and from the perspective of those countries stabilize things as China massively builds up its naval forces.”
Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla spoke similarly in a series of remarks on Sep. 22, saying that AUKUS doesn’t in any way dilute the nature or usefulness of the Quad.
Following the summit, Green said that it’s likely that the Quad would continue to act in an ad hoc manner, responding to new situations as they develop, but that the forum could easily formalize or work synchronously with AUKUS should the CCP persist in aggressive or otherwise adventuristic behavior in the Indo-Pacific.
“The Quad navies have the ability to blunt Chinese expansion should they choose to cooperate in a more deliberate way,” Green said. “If Chinese ambitions and expansion and coercion grow, I expect you’d see that.”