Leaders of the Quad nations are meeting in Tokyo on Tuesday in what can be described as one of the most important meetings in recent years that will affect the geopolitics and security of the Indo-Pacific region.
The group – composed of Japan, the US, Australia and India – seems to be emerging from the shadows of the Covid-19 pandemic and, to some degree, from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as well.
The top leaders are gathering for the fourth time – they have already met once in Washington last September and twice virtually – in less than two years. That underscores the importance of the Quad, which was largely just a concept until 2017.
That year, then-US President Donald Trump revived the group in a bid to take on China in its own backyard.
But analysts say the steady decline in each Quad nation’s bilateral ties with China in the past few years appears to have given it new impetus.
Michael Kugelman, deputy director at the Wilson Center think-tank, says the latest meeting is likely to sharply focus on the Indo-Pacific.
India has so far refused to directly criticise Russia over its war in Ukraine but it has reiterated the importance of respecting the sovereignty of each nation.
After initial anger against India’s stand, the US and other Western countries seem to have understood Delhi’s position.
The 2+2 Dialogue – attended by the foreign and defence ministers of the US and India – in April helped smooth their differences over Ukraine.
The US has acknowledged that India’s heavy dependence on Russia for its defence imports could not be overlooked.
So the Quad will focus on mutual points of convergence – and China is the biggest of these.
China has become increasingly assertive in the region, with ongoing maritime disputes with several countries and a land boundary conflict with India.
Beijing is investing heavily in strengthening its navy and its recent security pact with the Solomon Islands has stoked fears in Australia. A leaked draft of the agreement – which was verified by the Australian government – said Chinese warships would be permitted to dock on the islands and that Beijing could send security forces “to assist in maintaining social order”.
It will be interesting to see how Anthony Albanese, Australia’s newly elected PM, deals with this threat and how he raises the issue within the Quad framework.
Japan, for its part, has become increasingly wary of what it calls routine “incursions” from the Chinese navy.
As for the US, it is evident that it wants to protect its interests in the region.
The launch of the US-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), which has 13 regional players, is a step in that direction. It aims to promote regional growth, sustainability and inclusivity in the region.
It comes on the back of US President Joe Biden’s recent meeting with the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) leaders in Washington.
The region’s importance can be understood from the fact that it has some of the world’s most heavily used shipping lanes, including the Strait of Malacca. Around 30-40% of the world’s trade, including goods and crude oil, passes through these lanes.
So when Indian PM Narendra Modi, Mr Biden, Mr Albanese and Japanese PM Fumio Kishida meet in Tokyo, they may not mention China directly – but regional security will be on top of their agenda.
The Quad has several working groups, including on cybersecurity, health, infrastructure and education, but it has not explicitly spoken about any defence co-operation.
However, it’s likely to announce a joint strategy to tackle illegal fishing in the Indo-Pacific region – which analysts say is largely aimed at China.
Mr Kugelman says this announcement would be quite significant because it involves the use of satellite imagery and active intelligence sharing – which will have security implications.
But he adds that the group will need to do a lot more before Asean nations see it as a major counterbalance to China.