The US, India, Japan and Australia will discuss international issues in Tokyo on Tuesday. The question is, can they draw a line against China?
A quad is a vehicle that looks tough but has little practical use. Fun to cross through rough terrain but if you want to be safe and fast at your destination, you better choose another mode of transport. That does not bode well for the consultations tomorrow in Tokyo between the United States, India, Japan and Australia, also known as the ‘Quad’.
Apart from the name, there are other similarities. This quad is also a separate vehicle, not an alliance or an official international consultative body, which, moreover, is regularly buried in the diplomatic sand. After a number of meetings at the beginning of this century, the Quad remained silent for ten years until 2017. In recent years, consultations have started again, especially in view of the increasing Chinese threat.
China will also be the most important subject when the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Talks to his colleagues in Tokyo on Tuesday. All four of them have reason to look at Beijing tense, but each one does so through their own glasses.
For the US, the challenge of China as a new world power is central. Pompeo will try to persuade the others to participate in the elimination of Chinese technology companies, such as the Huawei Communication Group, which wants to play a central role in the construction of 5G networks. The Americans are also seeking support for their sanctions against the Chinese responsible for intervening in Hong Kong and for the repression of the Uighurs in Xinjiang. And Pompeo will undoubtedly reproach China once again for spreading the coronavirus.
For the other three, China is much closer and, moreover, the largest trading partner. They are caught between their diplomatic ties with the US and their economic interests in China, and that does not immediately inspire them to openly join the hard line of the United States.
Japan has just received a new prime minister, who has yet to strengthen his position internally. Yoshihide Suga was for years a loyal right-hand man of his predecessor Shinzo Abe, but he has not yet had his authority. It is also unclear whether he will continue Abe’s pursuit of a strong Japanese defense just as vigorously.
India has always been a little on the sidelines when it comes to measures against China, but that can change now. Following the military confrontation with the great neighbouring country on the Himalayas high, which has resulted in deaths, opposition to China has also increased in India.
Australia has recently had a tough run-in with Beijing, in the field of trade, but also at the universities where many Chinese study. The question is whether Australia wants to put further pressure on relations with China.
There are, however, common concerns: for example, the increase in Chinese power in the region can link the four countries. For Japan, the situation in the East and South China Sea, where Beijing claims Islands and reefs, is very close. For the US and Australia there are important shipping routes that they want to keep free. They also attach importance to the autonomy of Taiwan, which is considered by China to be a renegade province. In addition, Chinese pressure on Taiwan has recently increased, including through numerous military exercises around the island.
But Japan, India and Australia want to wait for the American elections before they really commit to the Washington line. It makes a lot of difference whether they’re going to have to deal with president Donald Trump, who, in a second term, may be even tougher on China, or with a return to classical diplomacy under Joe Biden. David Stilwell, the leading American diplomat for East Asia, already announced on Friday that there is likely to be no joint statement from the Quad talks in Tokyo.