Micro alliances spring up to combat China’s threat

The Quad illustrates a new 21st-century ‘diplomatic’ approach to combat Beijing in the Indo-Pacific region

US President Joe Biden visited Asia last week to strengthen relationships in the region, holding talks with leaders of the “Quad” alliance.

The group made up of Australia, India, Japan and the United States represents a 21st-century diplomatic strategy, which is growing in importance in lieu of an Asian NATO.

Biden’s trip coincided with a visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Fiji, as part of Beijing’s so-far unsuccessful attempts to gather a coalition of Pacific Island states.

China has been wooing nations in the Pacific for some time, as it attempts to expand its diplomatic reach. Most notably, a security deal with the Solomon Islands might open the door to Chinese military presence there.

All these efforts illustrate the kind of reshaped global order that we can expect to see in the future. The new security landscape is of pacts between small numbers of states that produce powerful security groupings with a specific focus on deterring other great powers.

Welcome to a new era of micro alliances in international politics.

Infrastructure aid

The Quad has its roots in cooperative disaster response efforts in the aftermath of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, but it has evolved in recent years to become more about security.

Although the process has stuttered at various points, it has returned to relevance, particularly as a vehicle for countering China’s Belt and Road Initiative through which the country is using international investment to build influence across Eurasia and Africa.

The Quad has now pledged to extend more than US$50 billion in infrastructure aid and investment in the Indo-Pacific during the next five years to counter China’s economic clout in the region.

Each of the member states has bilateral issues with China, including territorial disputes, historically rooted tensions and spiky diplomatic relations.

China’s PLA Navy in the South China Sea. Photo: PLA Navy

But the core motivation for its continuance and promotion is the realpolitik consideration of constraining the People’s Republic.

This was confirmed in a 2019 speech by the then US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. He described the group’s role as “ensuring that China retains only its proper place in the world.”

China has been increasingly assertive in recent years, especially in the South China Sea and in terms of its economic policies such as the Belt and Road program.

There has also been the bellicose diplomatic rhetoric. This has prompted states from across the Asia-Pacific region – and beyond – to rethink the previous policies that focused more on engagement with China than containment.

In this light, the Quad can be seen as a demonstration of the willingness of the US and its allies to respond more assertively in defending their position and interests in the region.

‘Sinister gang’

This has not gone unnoticed in China. The Global Times, a state-owned tabloid newspaper, has repeatedly referred to the Quad as the “sinister gang of Indo-Pacific to contain China.”

The underlying principle of the group has parallels with Aukus, a security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the US. This was announced in September 2021 with the initial purpose of helping Canberra develop nuclear-powered submarines.

There is also the “Five Eyes,” an intelligence-sharing arrangement among the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The Quad’s fundamental difference is the presence of two Asian powers that are eager for support to balance against China on their doorstep.

It is important to highlight that the group’s prominence is increasing in the context of almost complete silence from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN.

Joe Biden met with Quad leaders last week. Courtesy of the White House

This is despite efforts to convince the 10-member states that the Quad provides opportunities beyond security, such as the already-mentioned investment pledge.

Looking from a more macro perspective, the group – together with Aukus, Five Eyes and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity or IPEF – offers a big picture of the overall US strategy to contain China in the coming decades.

We are not yet in a new Cold War but we no longer live in a unipolar world dominated by a hegemonic US. This reshaping of the international order was already underway, driven by the increasing assertiveness of China.

But Russia’s assault on Ukraine, accompanied by Beijing’s “no limits” cooperation with Moscow, has hastened and exacerbated the drawing of lines across the globe.

Strategic competition

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken explicitly confirmed this focus in a recent speech:

Even as President Putin’s war continues, we will remain focused on the most serious long-term challenge to the international order – and that is the one posed by the People’s Republic of China.

We should not expect imminent direct conflict but it is clear that global strategic competition between the US and China is intensifying. The Quad is just the most recent example of how the teams are lining up.

Ed Griffith is a deputy head of the School of Humanities, Language & Global Studies at the University of Central Lancashire. Moises de Souza is a Course Leader for the International Relations BA Program at the University of Central Lancashire.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of China Factor.