US-China policy: Biden brings Japan, Australia and India together to stare down China

US President Joe Biden holds the first personal meeting in the square security dialogue, better known as the “square” an informal strategic forum in the United States, Australia, Japan and India – all democratic countries with their own interest in countering China’s rise in Asia.
Biden will be joined in Washington by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Indian leader Narendra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to discuss “promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific region”, according to White House.
The meeting comes at a time of great change for US policy in Asia. As the Biden administration seeks to strengthen its diplomatic partnerships in the region, Japan takes one increasingly hawkish sight of China’s military build-up. At the same time, Australia’s AUKUS defense pact with the United States and the United Kingdom has strengthened Washington’s commitment to Asia and at the same time worried some important Southeast Asian partners.

At this critical point, what the Quad chooses to do next is more important than ever. Australian Strategic Political Institute senior analyst Malcolm Davis said that compared to his early roots under the George W. Bush administration, Quad had evolved from a “low key political and economic dialogue” to a very significant player in Asia and the Pacific.

“Quad is not an Asian NATO … but at the same time it is clearly moving in the direction of cooperative security work,” Davis said.

US President Joe Biden and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will attend a virtual meeting with leaders of four-sided security dialogue countries on March 12 in the White House.

Counteract China

The Quad was originally proposed in 2007, but was put on hold for a decade until it was revived under former US President Donald Trump in the midst of China’s rise as an economic and military power.

The diplomatic environment in Asia has changed markedly since the revival of 2017 – and the Quad has become more important.

In April 2020, Australian-China relations declined sharply after Australia’s Morrison called for an independent inquiry into the origins of Covid-19. Beijing retaliated by imposing punitive restrictions on Australian goods and the situation is still the same to recover.

At the same time, relations between Washington and Beijing, which deteriorated under Trump, have faltered further under Biden as the United States strengthens its diplomatic partnerships in Asia with a view to including China.

The new US outreach was enthusiastically welcomed in Australia and earlier this month the two governments joined the UK to announce AUKUS, an agreement by which the three nations would exchange military information and technology to form a closer defense partnership in Asia.

Japan has also welcomed greater US involvement in the region. After trying to pursue a warmer China policy during the first years of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s tenure as leader, Japan has become increasingly wary of Beijing over the past year.

In an unusually blunt interview with CNN in September, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said Japan would do the same. “resolutely defend” its territory in the East China Sea “against Chinese action.”
Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi during an interview with CNN in September.

Bonnie Glaser, head of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund in the United States, said that India was now the most cautious member of the Quad and how far the group is willing to push for defense cooperation and counter China may depend on Delhi.

Following a border conflict between India and China in mid-2020, which resulted in the death of at least 20 Indian soldiers, Experts said Delhi has been reluctant to oppose Beijing.

But Amrita Jash, a researcher at the Center for Land Warfare Studies in New Delhi, wrote in the Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs in early 2021 that India is still moving closer to the United States militarily, including new and improved military exercises, arms purchases and technology transfers.

An Indian army convoy, carrying reinforcements and supplies, travels to Leh via Zoji La, a high mountain pass bordering China on June 13 in Ladakh, India.

Part of the collaboration involves improved tracking and targeting technology, Jash said. “(There is) an imperative need for India to keep a close eye on Chinese (military) movements along the Himalayan border and to map China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean,” she added.

Glaser said there was another deciding factor in how far Quad would be willing to go in opposite Beijing.

“Another factor is China’s own behavior. The more willing China is to threaten other countries’ interests, threaten economic coercion … the more countries will be willing to push back,” she said.

United in Taiwan

Taiwan is likely to be one of the most important points for discussion in Washington on Friday.

Over the past year, Beijing has intensified military operations around the island, which has been ruled separately from mainland China since the end of the civil war more than seven decades ago.
The Chinese Communist Party views Taiwan – home to some 24 million people – as an integral part of its territory, despite never controlling it. President Xi has also previously warned that Beijing would not rule out the use of force “reunite” Taiwan with China.
Under Trump and now Biden, the United States has strengthened its ties with Taiwan in recent years, agreed to large arms sales and sent high-profile diplomats on. visit to the island.
Australia has joined the United States regularly in expressing its support for Taiwan and in July, Japan’s Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso said in a speech reported by local media that Tokyo should team up with Washington to defend the island from any invasion.
Since August, for the first time, a meeting of senior Quad officials released a statement stressing “the importance of peace and security in the Taiwan Strait.”

Glaser said she believed the statement in August could have been preceded by a reference to Taiwan in a meeting with Quad leaders this week, which would be an unusually strong step by the Indian government.

“I think it will be an alarm clock (for Beijing). They have heard it from Australia and Japan but never from India,” she said.

A unified Quad could help deter further Chinese government aggression against Taiwan, according to Ben Scott, head of Australian security and the rules-based order project at the Sydney Lowy Institute.

But he said nuances would be important in all communications to avoid a spiral into potential confrontations. “There is always a risk of going too far and tipping into provocation,” he said.

US President Joe Biden talks about national security with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, on the right, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, on the left, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on 15 September.

AUKUS precipitation

The quad meeting could come at a useful time for the United States, Scott said – it has never been a better time for Washington to show that it is part of a broad, cohesive society in Asia.

Scott said that although he believed that the AUKUS agreement had been a positive step for US diplomacy in Asia, it had also presented a very “Anglo-sphere” face to the region.

“It describes itself as a club of maritime democracies that automatically excludes most of Southeast Asia,” Scott said. “(And) the focus of (US-China) competition is in Southeast Asia.”

Analysis: Australia's decades-long balancing act between the United States and China is over.  Washington chose that
In a statement issued on September 17, Indonesia said it was “deeply concerned” on an arms race in Asia Pacific, and called on Australia to respect international law and its commitment to peace and stability. A day later, Malaysia said the AUKUS deal could provoke other powers to “act more aggressively in the region, especially the South China Sea.”

By entering into a major cooperation agreement with Japan and India, Scott said the United States could present a more diverse face to Southeast Asia, including other parts of the continent – one that is not only concentrated on military brink of maneuver but also economic and political cooperation.

Beijing has pointed to the AUKUS deal as an example of how Washington only focuses on military power in Asia, Scott said. By comparison, China this week formally requested to join the comprehensive and progressive agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a free trade pact with 11 countries that the United States withdrew from under Trump.

Scott said it was important for the United States to now use Quad to focus on “positive and inclusive” agreements in Asia and the Pacific, if it was to counter Beijing effectively.

“If you want to win the hearts and minds of the region (Asia and the Pacific), the first priority is Covid and the second is broader economic stability and security,” he said.

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