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RSTV – THE BIG PICTURE ANALYSIS

Quad-plus diplomacy

The Topic covers GS paper 2 [Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India's interests.]

Don't Get Too Excited, 'Quad Plus' Meetings Won't Cover China ...

Context

  • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently held a video conference with his counterparts from India, Australia, Brazil, Israel, Japan and South Korea on issues related to the coronavirus pandemic. 

  • Pompeo and his counterparts discussed the importance of international cooperation, transparency, and accountability in combating the COVID-19 pandemic and in addressing its causes. 

What is the background?

  • The meeting also discussed collaboration toward preventing future global health crises and reaffirming the importance of the rules-based international order. 

  • This meeting comes in the backdrop of another meeting held earlier this month between senior officials of the four “Quad” countries. 

  • Quad meetings are no longer unusual. 

  • But off-late we've seen the Quad countries widen their scope and add other like-minded countries, which is special. 

What is Quad?

  • The Quadrilateral group or the Quad is an informal group which includes the trade ministers of the European Union, the United States, Japan, and Canada. 

  • It was first suggested during a private meeting during the 7th G7 summit in July 1981.


What are the concerns?

  • But for all the good that can come of these countries working together on issues of common concern, the Quad Plus, if sustained, may actually jeopardize what in recent years has become the Quad’s primary mission long-term: to signal unified resolve to counter China’s growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific. 

    • Since the Quad’s resurrection from a decade-long hiatus in November 2017, the group has met twice per year (no times in person this year yet) and has emphasized maintaining the liberal rules-based international order, which China seeks to either undermine or overturn. 

    • Although the Quad Plus would certainly agree with that core objective, none of the Plus states are likely to be particularly enthusiastic about publicly appending their names to a group that seeks to counter China.

  • South Korea, for example, would rather concentrate on North Korea. Moreover, when the United States in March 2017 deployed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) launchers to South Korea to defend against North Korean missiles, Beijing felt threatened as well and retaliated by crushing the South Korean economy — the effects of which still linger today. 

    • Meanwhile, New Zealand appears to value economic ties with China, its largest trading partner, over creating political waves. 

  • Vietnam, however, is an intriguing case.

    • Vietnam would make an excellent addition to a China-focused Quad Plus. Broadening Quad participation to include a Southeast Asian country would weaken Beijing’s narrative that a Quad is simply a group of extra-regional major powers attempting to “contain” Chinese power. 

    • But Vietnamese leaders are also unlikely to go along with Quad Plus unless Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea dramatically ramps up and forces Hanoi’s hand. 

    • In the meantime, Vietnam’s Three Noes defense policy—no alliances, no foreign bases on Vietnamese territory, and no aligning with a second against a third country—significantly constrain Hanoi’s ability to participate in a group aimed at countering China.


What is the way forward?

  • First, Quad Plus proves extremely successful in the coronavirus context and overtakes the original Quad. 

    • This would return the Quad to a primary focus on disaster relief efforts and would be problematic for joint attempts to counter China. 

  • Alternatively, if the Quad Plus ends after the pandemic recedes, then the Quad should be able to pick up where it left off and turn attention back to China. 

  • A third possibility is that both the Quad and Quad Plus continue to exist and work together (or not). 

  • This scenario would likely minimize disruption as long as the existence of Quad Plus did not detract from China strategy efforts. 

  • At least what we know for now is that the Quad Plus will overshadow the Quad, and this reduces the amount of collective attention to pushing back on China.


Conclusion

China, given that it is such a major factor in the strategic environment, has figured prominently in the talks. It is a concern, however, that is not discussed in a vacuum. All four countries have mutual interests in areas like the freedom of the seas, the shape of regional diplomatic architecture, counter-terrorism, intelligence cooperation, and non-traditional security. These interests have been the real drivers of our private discussions. The rise of China is not an issue. The issue is the challenges it is currently presenting to many shared quad interests. 



 
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