Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Japan’s Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi hosted the second Quad foreign ministerial meeting on Oct. 6. “Quad,” which is short for the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, is an informal strategic forum of democracies that includes the United States, Japan, Australia, and India, and whose purpose is to discuss Indo-Pacific regional security issues.
To an old timer diplomat like me, however, the “Quad” was the United States, Japan, the European Union and Canada, a group of major trading partners in the World Trade Organization (WTO) in the 1990s. Unfortunately, the old Quad has lost its influence and become almost irrelevant since China joined the WTO in 2001.
Several foreign journalists in Tokyo have asked me about the significance of the present-day gathering in Tokyo. My answer was simple. It is very symbolic and meaningful given that three foreign ministers flew all the way from Washington, Canberra and New Delhi — despite the deadly pandemic and U.S. President Donald Trump’s hospitalization due to COVID-19 — to attend the event.
The four foreign ministers basically echoed each other’s positions in the Tokyo forum and agreed to meet regularly in the future. The real question, however, is who, if any, will join the Quad next. Are the Philippines, Vietnam or Indonesia interested in participating? Will South Korea make up its mind about joining? And finally, will China ever consider the idea? Here are some observations:
U.S. was too aggressive
Although U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, in his opening remarks at the meeting, stated that he looks forward to renewing the U.S.’s resolve to protect the “precious freedoms and the sovereignty of the diverse nations of the region,” he too frequently criticized China and the Chinese Communist Party by name.
The Quad, however, is neither a military alliance nor an exclusionary entity. Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne, who was more diplomatic in her presentation, eloquently said without naming China, “We believe in the fundamental importance of individualrights and in a region in which disputes are resolved according to international law.”
India’s foreign minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar, echoed Payne’s views by referring to “a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific” and to “upholding the rules-based international order underpinned by the rule of law, transparency, freedom of navigation in international seas, and respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty and peaceful resolution of disputes.”
Manila not likely to join
The Philippines, an archipelagic state and U.S. ally in the Western Pacific, could be a perfect candidate to become the next member of the Quad. Manila, however, seems to be flip-flopping on joining the group, especially under the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte who seems determined to distance his country from the influences of the United States.
While voicing concern in 2018 about China’s missile deployments on artificial islands in the South China Sea,Duterte also reportedly expressed confidence that renewing and expanding his country’s relationship with China will also ensure that those missiles are not pointed at the Philippines. Manila will likely continue appeasing Beijing in the foreseeable future.
Vietnam not a democracy
It has also been discussed as to whether Hanoi might eventually join the Quad nations. A 2014 Pew Research Center survey showed that 84 percent of Vietnamese were concerned that territorial disputes with China could lead to a military conflict. Vietnam, however, is not a democracy and therefore probably could not join even if it wanted to.
Indonesia may consider
Jakarta, currently in a dispute with both Beijing and Taipei over territorial boundaries, is growing increasingly concerned about Chinese maritime expansion into the South China Sea. Indonesia is another archipelagic democracy in the Western Pacific that could also be a perfect candidate to become a Quad member.
However, as a longtime nonaligned regional power, Jakarta may find it difficult to immediately involve itself in the Quad dialogue. It appears Indonesia would rather seek to build a consensus or enhance its leadership role in the ASEAN group of nations in the years to come.
South Korea not ready
Is Seoul willing to join? Hardly. When that country’s foreign minister, Kang Kyung-wha, was asked in a webinar hosted by the Asia Society last month if South Korea was open to joining the Quad, she stated that “We don’t think anything that automatically shuts out, and is exclusive of, the interests of others is a good idea.” Clearly, she meant China should not be pushed aside.
The South Korean foreign minister went on to say, “If that’s a structured alliance, we will certainly think very hard whether it serves our security interests.” And while Seoul has “never been invited by the Quad” to join, it is “ready to have discussion with whoever has an approach that is inclusive, open and in accordance with international norms,” she noted.
China cautiously pessimistic
Although Beijing has not yet officially responded to the Quad foreign ministerial meeting in Tokyo, China will definitely oppose a U.S. effort to build an alliance similar to NATO in the Indo-Pacific region. Beijing is well aware that countries there are reluctant to take sides between it and Washington.
A recent Global Times article concluded with this warning: “If these countries coordinate with the US in building a NATO-like military alliance in checking and balancing China, their cooperation with China in terms of economy, politics and security will decrease dramatically, which is not in line with their national interests.”
What Japan must do
The idea of the Quad was initiated by Foreign Minister Taro Aso in November 2006. He told then U.S. Secretary of State Condi Rice in Hanoi that it is important for Japan, Australia, India, and the U.S. to expand their dialogue about the Asia-Pacific region. Unfortunately the secretary of state’s response did little to promote confidence, with her saying that it was “very interesting” and she hoped to “continue discussions,” meaning “No.”
It took Japan 14 years to host the Quad foreign ministerial in Tokyo. Japan should not be in a hurry. If a new member for the Quad is not forthcoming in the near future, patience and consistency are still required to bear fruit. Until then, we must keep the Quad united. Remember the lessons of the old Quad in the WTO after 2001.