(MENAFN- Asia Times)
On May 24, the leaders of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue discussed a broad agenda (see the Joint Statement ) including traditional security-related topics such as maritime, cyber, and space issues; China, Taiwan, North Korea and Myanmar; and cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The elephant in the room was Russia and its war on Ukraine. The spillover to the Indo-Pacific region was a shared concern.
Compared with past meetings, more emphasis was placed on economic security, including supply chains and cooperation in advanced technologies such as next generation semiconductors, quantum computers, Open RAN, 5G, and post-5G. Additionally, public goods were discussed in areas such as climate and decarbonization, infrastructure, and the fight against Covid-19. Concrete measures were set forth in the Quad fact sheet .
The Joint Statement did not explicitly mention Russia, reflecting India's reservations. Similarly, China was not directly mentioned, but there were clear references between the lines, particularly in the area of maritime security.
The Quad leaders reaffirmed their rejection of unilateral changes to the status quo in the Indo-Pacific region. In a clear move towards Quad's institutionalization, the four leaders agreed to hold another leaders' meeting in Australia in 2023 and confirmed that they would continue to work closely together, including regular meetings of leaders and foreign ministers.
Delivering public goods
Regarding the fight against Covid-19, to date the Quad partners have jointly promised COVAX AMC about US$5.2 billion, which is about 40% of the total contributions from government donors.
The Quad countries have delivered more than 670 million doses of vaccines, including at least 265 million doses of vaccines to the Indo-Pacific region. Over the next five years the Quad will seek to expand aid and infrastructure investment in the Indo-Pacific by more than $50 billion.
The Quad has also launched a maritime initiative, the Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness Partnership (IPMDA), which integrates maritime data obtained via satellite for full water monitoring. This partnership is intended to combat piracy as well as illegal and unregulated fishing.
With regard to climate change, the Quad will launch a package of measures to adapt to and mitigate climate change (Q-CHAMP) and a framework for ministerial meetings in which transport ministers will discuss lower-emission modes of transport and energy ministers will work to strengthen green energy supply networks.
The Quad leaders also announced the creation of the Quadrilateral Partnership for Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief (HADR) in the Indo-Pacific region and announced the launch of the Quad Fellowship training program in the area of strengthening interpersonal relations.
During his visit to Tokyo, US President Joe Biden announced the start of negotiations on the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF ), which he originally presented in October 2021 during the virtual East Asia Summit, highlighting Washington's continued engagement in Asia.
IPEF is designed as a tool to strengthen US collaboration with Asian partners, focusing on standards for the digital economy, supply chain resilience, decarbonization, infrastructure, and labor standards.
Unlike the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and RCEP, the two largest trading blocs in Asia, the new framework will not reduce tariffs. IPEF is a more tailored mechanism that seeks the benefits of trade partnerships while protecting the US from the certain negative aspects of trade liberalization.
According to US officials, IPEF will focus on deepening cooperation between the US and its Asian partners under four pillars: supply-chain resilience, clean energy and decarbonization, taxation and the fight against corruption, and trade. The fourth category covers areas such as the digital economy, emerging technologies, labor rules, transparency, and regulatory procedures.
Critics argue that IPEF is simply a subtly disguised attempt to compensate for the United States' departure from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations in 2017 and the US refusal to join its successor CPTPP or the ASEAN-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which also includes China.
Nevertheless, Japan and Australia expressed support for IPEF. From their point of view, IPEF is rather complementary to CPTPP because it deals with another set of issues. Both countries, however, would welcome the eventual return of the US to the CPTPP. Interestingly, India, which withdrew from the RCEP negotiations over concerns about the impact of free trade on its farmers and businesses, has agreed to join the new framework.
US political fragility and other headwinds
The Quad partners have been concerned for some time about increasing US domestic political fragility. While President Biden is viewed positively for his support of the Quad and for his administration's less confrontational approach to trade allies and military status agreements, concerns remain about the continuity of his policies in the face of upcoming midterm elections.
These concerns ultimately lead to questions about the US ability to act as a guarantor of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region over the long run.
US foreign policy currently focuses on three avenues: Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia. Despite challenges connected to the security of US European NATO allies, however, the Biden administration will emphasize that its top priority is China, which the United States views as its only strategic competitor. From the US perspective then, it is essential that its allies, whether in the Indo-Pacific region or in Europe, bear their part in defense.
The new US-led IPEF economic initiative aims to fill the strategic gap left by former president Donald Trump's administration after withdrawing from the TPP. However, IPEF is not a traditional free-trade agreement (FTA).
Instead, IPEF offers an alternative to Beijing's view of the Indo-Pacific region's economic organization, providing a rules-based legal and strategic framework for negotiating business issues related to the digital economy, green energy, infrastructure investment, and supply-chain resilience.
Without offering lower tariffs, some analysts say IPEF will have limited appeal to countries that want better access to the US market. Nevertheless, the White House has managed to persuade several emerging economies to join. So far, 13 countries have expressed support for IPEF, including the members of the Quad and South Korea, which cumulatively represents 40% of world gross domestic product.
India remains the weakest link in the Quad. Not only does it lack meaningful security coordination with other members, but it is in fact more integrated with Russia's military industrial complex. It has not held Russia accountable for its aggression in Ukraine, leading some to question its commitment to the Quad.
On the other hand, both Japan and Australia are US allies and are focused on enhancing security cooperation with each other. In January the two states signed a Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA).
Since 2014, their bilateral relationship has had the status of a“special strategic partnership.” Japan has deepened its relations with Australia in recent years by agreeing on an Information Sharing Agreement and an Acquisition Cross Servicing Agreement. Japan and Australia also have a bilateral FTA and both are CPTPP members.
The China factor
The Quad Leaders' Summit, despite differing positions on Russia, emphasized the common Indo-Pacific interests of the partners. China remains the main external factor contributing to closer cooperation among the Quad countries.
While then-leader Kevin Rudd left the Quad after the change of government Down Under, the new Australian prime minister, Anthony Albanese, like Rudd from the Australian Labor Party, made his first foreign trip to Tokyo to attend the Quad Leaders' Summit. Albanese underlined that his government's goals were in line with the Quad's priorities and reaffirmed Australia's commitment to the group.
During the Quad session, China and Russia conducted a joint military exercise including six strategic bombers. This was the fourth joint flight of Chinese and Russian bombers around Japan since the first in July 2019. The day after the summit on May 25, North Korea conducted a test of three ballistic missiles.
Unsurprisingly, on May 26, China and Russia blocked a US-drafted United Nations Security Council resolution to strengthen sanctions on North Korea. In response to the Russian and Chinese air exercise, as well as the DPRK's missile test, Japan and the US conducted joint F-15 and F-16 fighter exercises, in order to point out the interoperability and combined capabilities of Japan and the US.
Despite the media's focus on Biden's interview after the summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on May 23, neither the American nor the Japanese basic policy on Taiwan has changed. Both governments support the status quo, rejecting both any declaration of formal independence and Chinese intervention in the self-governed island.
Therefore, the key words to look for in the latest Japan-US Joint Leaders' Statement are the“importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait as an indispensable element in security and prosperity in the international community.”
Even before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the deepening Russian-Chinese partnership, which was highlighted in the Putin-Xi summit's Joint Statement on February 4, was causing Tokyo's security analysts headaches. But unlike the 2014 Crimea annexation, Japan's response to Russia's aggression was unequivocal, expressing concern at the potential spread of conflict in Ukraine.
In particular, Japan was concerned with the potential precedent set by Russia's actions, including possible Chinese expansion in the region.
While the global focus is on Russian President Vladimir Putin's War in Ukraine, the situation is being exploited by North Korea through continued missile tests. In this context, Prime Minister Kishida, during the visits from March to May in India, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, warned Asian partners that the situation in the Ukraine sets a dangerous precedent for Chinese hegemonic ambitions and expansion.
There was also a clear message especially to the Indian Quad partners: that Russia is not a security counterweight to China. The Japanese minister of foreign affairs attended a meeting of NATO foreign ministers on May 7, where he emphasized that security in Europe and the Indo-Pacific could no longer be discussed separately.
On May 19, for the first time, the Japanese chief of staff attended a meeting of the NATO Military Committee on the Security Environment and Defense Cooperation in Asia. The Japanese prime minister is expected to attend the NATO Leaders' Summit on June 29-30 in Madrid, after attending the Group of Seven Leaders' Summit in Germany on June 26-28.
While the Quad is an Indo-Pacific–focused organization, its members appreciate globalization in both its positive and negative forms. The organization represents a response to those that would seek to undermine the liberal international order. The West continues to awaken from its slumber.