Experts React: The Quad Leaders Meet for the First Time
Today marked the first ever leader-level meeting of the Quad—the informal grouping of the United States, Australia, India, and Japan—to address a raft of challenges from COVID-19 vaccines to China. Experts with GMF’s Asia program are sharing topline analysis of the meeting and its key takeaways, as well as what to watch going forward.
The Quad meeting precedes multiple diplomatic activities by the Biden administration focused on the Indo-Pacific region: the first high-level meeting between Biden administration and Chinese officials is planned for March 18th in Alaska; and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will mark his first international trip with visits to Japan, South Korea, and India. GMF’s experts will be tracking these upcoming events and will be available to provide context and analysis as they happen.
Hosting the inaugural Quad leader-level summit less than two months into the Biden administration clearly indicates that the United States is re-emphasizing the value of working with allies and partners to solve problems. Today’s announcement of creative teaming on COVID-19 vaccine funding, production, and distribution demonstrates that the grouping’s still ill-defined remit can actually serve as an advantage if the Quad can quickly deliver tangible contributions throughout the Indo-Pacific and beyond. Although the grouping may encounter headwinds on future agenda such as climate change and rare earth minerals cooperation, it is imperative that the Quad expand into areas beyond traditional security. At the same time, ensuring the unencumbered use of the world’s oceans—especially those in the heavily-trafficked Indo-Pacific—should remain a key objective of the group. The United States cannot and should not take that burden on itself and expanding the Quad on an ad hoc basis to include likeminded countries in Europe and the Indo-Pacific can promote common interests and values going forward.
The Quad summit provided an insight into how the Biden administration plans to approach the China challenge—by working with allies and partners, particularly in the Indo-Pacific. To the region, this summit sends an important signal. It not only elevates Quad to a leader-level meeting, but also shows that these new coalitions can deliver public goods for the entire region, not just the partners involved. The vaccine initiative is the first concrete deliverable of the summit and leverages the unique strengths of each partner—including India’s manufacturing abilities and Australia’s logistics capability to deliver these vaccines to Southeast Asia and the Pacific. The leaders also mentioned potential collaboration on emerging technologies where competition with China is an important aspect. Overall, the summit shows the Quad is not just a talk-shop for signaling but can deliver alternatives to Chinese investments and demonstrate limits to China’s influence.
Xi Jinping has already spelled out China’s critical stance on building “small cliques” in his Davos speech earlier this year, and the Quad is precisely the sort of grouping he had in mind. The political signaling of a summit is strong, showing the willingness of leaders among the four nations to push ahead with a meeting at the highest level for the first time despite China’s concerns. But however Beijing may dislike the form, it is very hard for it to object to the substance. U.S. partners struggled in recent years to navigate the overt “counter-China” focus of the administration. But an agenda, like the Quad’s, that focuses at least as much on positive-sum cooperation to compete with China more effectively, and public goods provision, is likely to be the model for much of the U.S. coalition-building work in future too, which will be far trickier for Beijing to navigate.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.