Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. held their first leaders’ summit online and issued a joint statement that called for broad cooperation. It is significant, especially with regard to deterring Beijing, that the leaders of these major countries have convened to uphold common values of democracy and the rule of law.
Until now, foreign ministers and top civil servants from the four countries — also known as the Quad — have held repeated discussions. The talks were upgraded to the leaders’ level at the behest of U.S. President Joe Biden. We welcome the fact that the U.S., which in recent years has preferred bilateral diplomacy, is clarifying its position on cooperating with allies and focusing on Asia in resolving various issues of concern to the international community.
The Quad’s joint statement checked China’s hard-line stance, saying the countries would “meet challenges to the rules-based maritime order in the East and South China seas.” During the talks, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said that Japan “strongly opposes China’s unilateral attempts to change the status quo” through repeated incursions into the territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands, which China claims as the Diaoyu.
Holding the summit took time because of concerns from India, which has a border dispute with China. New Delhi did not want to risk provoking Beijing. The joint statement did not mention China by name, nor did it prioritize security issues. These decisions were likely necessary to ensure the participation of India, a regional powerhouse.
The agreement to help increase the production of vaccines in India to supply them to developing countries is part of the effort to gain New Delhi’s cooperation. It also appears to be an attempt to counter China’s extensive vaccine diplomacy around the world. The four countries will establish three working groups on vaccine diplomacy, advanced technology and climate change.
The initiation of a dialogue on supply chains, with a particular focus on semiconductors and rare earths, also indicates that the Quad nations have China in mind.
While the Japan-U.S. alliance serves as the cornerstone of Asia’s regional security, the two nations must also build economic partnerships and crisis management networks with other liberal, market-oriented countries in the region.
European countries are also becoming increasingly wary of China’s maritime expansion and tightening grip over Hong Kong. This opens more space for cooperation among major nations. The Quad nations should use the leaders’ summit as a foundation for broader cooperation to advance the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” concept advocated by Japan and the U.S.
U.S. foreign policy toward Asia is quickly taking shape with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin holding a two-plus-two meeting with their counterparts in Tokyo on March 16 and in Seoul on March 18.
This will be followed by Prime Minister Suga’s visit to Washington set for early April. Nations should use these opportunities to seek ways to further deepen cooperation and enhance stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.