Indo-Pacific” no longer the“Asia-Pacific, at least, according to the United States and some of its allies. Such a change may not seem much on first glance, but these four letters are far more than a matter of semantics: they have the potential to create a seismic shift in the geopolitical landscape of the region.
This is evidenced when the US, Japan, Australia and India announced this month they had agreed to create a coalition that would patrol and exert influence on waterways from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific to the (much disputed) East and South China Seas. The grouping of the four “like-minded” democracies known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad was first put forward by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007, but the idea was dropped after Beijing protested claiming the defence partnership with India was aimed at stifling China’s growth. It made a sudden comeback when senior officials from the
four nations met in Manila on November 11 on the sidelines of regional summits during US President Donald Trump’s tour to East Asia. Obviously, the group is set to have a China-centric security agenda. The Quad highlights the growing suspicion and unease diplomats in Washington, Tokyo, Canberra and New Delhi feel about China’s meteoric military and economic rise
This new strategy to confront China with a unified front signal a growing regional competition between Beijing and Washington. The Quad meeting came as the US appeared to be shifting strategic focus. As Trump was visiting East Asia, he too referred to the region as the “Indo-Pacific” rather than the “Asia-Pacific” – a clear shot at Beijing.
A formalized, institutionalized structure would meet the need for a “sustained regular communication between countries with those shared interests and values”.
While India, Japan and Australia feel most threatened by China and will be anxious to get an alliance going, the US must make clear its plans for the region and take the lead. It, after all, remains the most powerful country in the world and none of the other Quad members has the heft to shape events in the region. The US stationing two carrier groups in South China Sea is indication that Washington is taking the Chinese threat seriously. Quad can build on that.
And, only if the Quad members act in concert and with a purpose will Beijing take them seriously. As will the Asean, which wields considerable influence in the region. The Association of South-East Asian Nations or Asean will need to be roped in if the alliance is to become a reality first, and a essential strength multiplier , in the form of a NATO-like body.