Japan hosts Quad summit seeking unity on countering China

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Japan hosts Quad summit seeking unity on countering China

By Sebastian Smith, Sara HUSSEIN

Tokyo (AFP) May 24, 2022

Leaders of Japan, India, Australia and the United States met in Tokyo on Tuesday, looking to put China on notice as it expands its military and economic influence in the region.

The summit of the grouping known as the Quad comes a day after US President Joe Biden said Washington would be ready to intervene militarily to defend Taiwan, prompting China to accuse him of “playing with fire”.

Tuesday’s gathering is expected to produce fewer fireworks but still be clearly directed at China.

“This is about democracies versus autocracies, and we have to make sure we deliver,” Biden said as the Quad summit began.

There is growing regional discomfort with Chinese military activity including sorties, naval exercises and encroachments by fishing vessels that are viewed as probing regional defences and red lines.

Adding to concerns are China’s efforts to build ties with Pacific nations including the Solomon Islands, which sealed a wide-ranging security pact with Beijing last month.

China’s foreign minister will visit the Solomon Islands this week, with reports suggesting he could add other countries including Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga and Kiribati.

In a nod to those concerns, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida urged Quad members to “listen carefully” to regional neighbours, including the Pacific islands, “to help resolve the immediate challenges they face”.

“Without walking together with countries in the region, the Quad cannot be successful,” he said.

Australia’s newly elected Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also pledged more support for Pacific nations including aid to deepen “our defence and maritime cooperation”.

The Quad nations are expected to agree Tuesday on a deal to monitor regional maritime movement, a White House official said.

The “major initiative” will track “what is happening in countries’ territorial waters and exclusive economic zones”, the official told reporters.

Collected data will be unclassified and shared with “a wide range of partners” to help monitor activities like illegal fishing.

– ‘Candid, direct conversations’ –

Biden, Kishida, Albanese and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be looking to present a united front, but there are divisions behind the scenes.

India is the only Quad member that has not condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Biden has repeatedly described a strong response to Moscow as a deterrent to other nations considering unilateral military action — like China.

US strategy is for a “free, open, connected, secure and resilient Indo-Pacific. Russia’s assault on Ukraine only heightens the importance of those goals — the fundamental principles of the international order,” he said.

Biden will meet Modi and Albanese one-on-one later Tuesday and “is very aware that India has its own history, its own views”, the White House official said.

“The question is how they’re addressed and how they’re managed. And I think the president is very much of the view that the way to do this is to have candid, direct conversations,” the official added.

India is expected to seek a softer overall tone to any joint Quad statement, shying away from the more muscular language employed by Washington, Canberra and Tokyo in recent months.

But Biden said the grouping was of growing importance, calling it a “central” partnership.

“In a short time, we’ve shown the Quad isn’t just a passing fad. We mean business,” he said.

Biden arrived in Japan on Sunday after a stop in Seoul as he tries to reassure Asian allies his administration has not been distracted by the war in Ukraine.

Hanging over the regional tour has been the threat that North Korea could be planning fresh missile launches or even a nuclear test.

Speculation that a launch could happen when Biden was in Seoul did not materialise, but Washington has said it remains “prepared”, and Pyongyang’s missile programme is also likely to be on the Quad agenda.

Checking China: What is the Quad alliance?

Tokyo (AFP) May 24, 2022 -
Leaders of the “Quad” — the United States, India, Australia and Japan — met in Tokyo on Tuesday, cementing an alliance designed to counter China’s push across the Asia-Pacific region.

The grouping has risen and fallen in prominence over the years, but gained new traction following deadly border clashes between India and China in 2020, and a recent surge in Australian diplomatic and commercial confrontations with Beijing.

Members stress it is not an “Asian NATO”, and portray it as a group that can offer others in the region an alternative to China in areas including Covid-19 resources, disaster relief and cybersecurity.

– Roots in 2004 tsunami relief –

The four countries first came together for relief operations after the Indonesia earthquake of January 26, 2004 sent devastating tsunami waves along India’s eastern coastline, killing about 230,000 people.

Three years later, the countries formed the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. Japan’s prime minister at the time, Shinzo Abe, was said to be a driving force in the effort.

The Quad’s first main act was to conduct joint naval exercises under the existing US-India bilateral Malabar exercise format.

But a year later, then-Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd backed away from the nascent alliance, not wanting to be part of a group seen as openly challenging China, which had become a powerful economic partner of Australia.

– Australia returns to fold –

A decade later, China’s increasingly aggressive push to build regional networks and project its military power — especially in the South China Sea — as well as its violent border clashes with India, prodded the four back together, with Canberra now a more committed partner.

They all participated in the 2020 Malabar exercises, making the group appear increasingly like a military alliance.

Beijing lashed out in response, branding it a Cold War-type organisation dedicated to containing China. Foreign Minister Wang Yi has compared the grouping to “ocean foam”, something that will make waves but quickly dissipate.

– Biden’s stamp –

While the Trump administration put some effort into sustaining the Quad, President Joe Biden went further, virtually convening the first summit of Quad leaders in March 2021 just weeks after taking office.

In September 2021, the four met in person in Washington, elevating the grouping further — but still without creating a formal institution.

It was an example of Washington’s new approach of building coalitions of countries and institutions around specific mutual needs, regionally and globally, rather than traditional security alliances.

That means, Washington says, the Quad can work with other groupings, such as ASEAN, when interests overlap.

– Wooing India –

For the United States, Australia and Japan, the Quad is very much a long-term courtship of India. New Delhi is traditionally insistent on its non-aligned status when it comes to contests between superpowers.

Deadly fighting that broke out in 2019 between Chinese and Indian troops in a disputed Himalayan border region appeared to have moved India off that stance.

But India, citing “neutrality”, has continued to offer material support for Russia amid the invasion of Ukraine, creating a new source of friction.

India is “the critical, crucial member in the Quad”, Kurt Campbell, the White House’s national security coordinator for the Asia-Pacific region, said in November.

In its strategic planning for the region, the US has stopped saying “Asia-Pacific” and now studiously refers to it as the “Indo-Pacific”.

– Vaccines and climate change –

But officials from all four countries say the Quad has to offer more than defence. None are pushing for a formal alliance — India, analysts say, remains deeply wary of that — and there are doubts it could effectively challenge Beijing’s military might anyway.

Instead, the four democratic countries are looking to other “soft power” activities that offer the rest of the region a contrast to authoritarian China.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been central to giving the grouping greater meaning. The four countries used the Quad framework to commit to distributing 1.3 billion vaccine doses, with more than 485 million already delivered.

Other issues they are working on within the Quad format: “clean” shipping, fighting global warming and building more secure IT and internet infrastructure.

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Why Turkey isn’t on board with Finland, Sweden joining NATO – and why that matters

Ann Arbor MI (SPX) May 19, 2022

After decades of neutrality, the two Nordic states that have to date remained out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have reacted to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by declaring an intention to join the American-led alliance. But there is a major obstacle in their way: Turkey.

The increasingly autocratic and anti-democratic president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has said he will not agree to the entry of these two countries. And as a member of NATO, Turkey’s approval is needed for Finland … read more

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