By Han Hua
That US President Joe Biden will host the first-ever in-person Quad (Quadrilateral security dialogue among the US, Japan, Australia, and India) summit at the White House on Friday suggests the previous loose security partnership could soon become a formal organization.
In his speech before the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Biden said:"We elevated the Quad partnership among Australia, India, Japan, and the United States to take on challenges ranging from health security to climate to emerging technologies."
Since previous US president Donald Trump announced the Indo-Pacific strategy in 2017, the administration has been projecting Quad as the Asian version of NATO, with the aim of constraining, if not containing, China's "growing power and influence" in the region.
Seen as an informal coordination platform during the 2004 tsunami relief and rescue operations, the four countries' partnership has transformed into a security grouping. Not only have the collaboration and activities among the four sides intensified, the level of dialogue has also been upgraded from meetings among ministerial-level officials to summits between heads of state or government.
In fact, soon after assuming office in January, Biden upgraded the grouping by convening a virtual Quad summit, the groups' first, and issuing the first joint statement with the leaders of the other three countries.
The Quad's agenda, too, has been expanded, from focusing on ideas of a "free and open Indo-Pacific" and a "rule-based order" to a wide range of issues including pandemic response and vaccine distribution, fighting climate change, securing supply chains, and combating terrorism. The four countries have also engaged in joint military exercises in the Indian and Pacific oceans.
For the US, the Quad is an act of realignment in a bid to implement its new strategy for the Asia-Pacific region in the age of "great power competition", a concept first mentioned in the US' Indo-Pacific Strategy Report and National Security Strategy during the Trump administration. In the two documents, China and Russia were identified as "strategic competitors" of the US.
Even the newly published Interim National Security Strategic Guidance highlights the US' "growing rivalry with China, Russia". It had become evident even before the documents were released that the US was desperate to develop the Quad into a formal security partnership to target China, along with Russia. The economic "coercion" and "threats of free navigation" in the Indo-Pacific region are conveniently phrased at times to show the four countries face common challenges and therefore should respond to them with cohesion.
To cope with China's "challenge", the Biden administration recently introduced a new "Pacific Deterrence Initiative", which is aimed at developing more advanced weapons systems and deploying them along strategic maritime routes in the region, including the planned deployment of nuclear-powered submarines off the coast of Australia.
For its part, Japan is collaborating with the US by meddling in cross-Straits affairs and by deploying missiles and troops on its island near Taiwan, which is an integral part of China. As for India, once wary of the US' efforts to form a coalition against China, it seems determined to deepen its defense ties with the US and play a more active role in the Quad including in joint naval exercises, such as the US-India-Japan naval drill called "Exercise Malabar".
Yet the Quad is only one of the key security groupings the US has formed in the region. The Five Eyes intelligence alliance and newly formed AUKUS(Australia, the United Kingdom and the US) have their own roles to play in US-led alignment systems.
However, those security groupings will destabilize the Asia-Pacific instead of helping maintain peace and stability in the region for three main reasons. First, security groupings or alliances might have served some purpose during the Cold War era, but they don't have any use in today's globalized world where no issue can be solved by one country or security grouping alone. Cooperation, rather than strategic competition, is the only way countries can meet the challenges facing the world, including climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Second, security groupings are formed to target a set of rival states. But the formation of such groupings will prompt those "rivals" to engage in an arms race to ensure their survival and security. And an arms race, which could lead to nuclear proliferation, cannot help maintain regional stability.
And third, the Indo-Pacific will be free and open if free trade is promoted and the economic integration among countries is intensified. Divisive competitions and exclusive groupings are not conducive to free navigation and maritime communication.
It is still too early to say whether the Quad will develop into a full-fledged and binding security alliance, because it will not be easy for the Quad countries to make the solemn commitment to militarily defend any of the four in case it is attacked or faces a war.
Moreover, the Quad countries have complex, non-zero-sum ties with China, and with Russia－and China is the top trade partner of all the four countries. So would not be appropriate to call the Quad an "Asian NATO".
Thanks to its rapid economic development, China has become a hub of economic and trade activities and the most powerful engine driving global growth. And despite the Sino-US disputes have intensifying, countries in the region are reluctant to take sides between China, a trade partner, and the US, a security patron. But unfortunately, the gap between economic and security clout has widened in Asia. So, in order to change divergence into convergence, the US and China should make efforts to reduce their disputes and work together to meet the common challenges the countries in this dynamic region are facing.
The author is a professor of international studies at Peking University.
The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.