With permission from the war in Ukraine, this week the geopolitical focus has shifted to the Far East. The first Asian tour of US President Joe Biden is not disappointing: it was sold as a trip to close a new trade pact with the region’s democracies and has ended up becoming a crossroads of incendiary darts between the United States and China, with Taiwan for half, adding more sand to the jar of the new Cold War that was already almost full.
That Biden said Monday from Tokyo that his country would be willing to intervene militarily to defend Taiwan caused great surprise in Beijing, which expected an aggressive narrative, but did not count on such a blow. His response was to warn the US that he was “playing with fire” and not to underestimate his power.
From the Asian giant they have never hidden their intention to retake, by force if necessary, the island that they consider a separatist province, but which functions de facto as an independent nation. Although not even Washington’s ally dares to recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty. To do so would be to cross a sacred red line for China, and neither superpower is interested in another war right now.
“No power, including the United States, can stop the Chinese people’s pace towards reunification or alter the failed fate of the Taiwan independence forces,” Wang Wenbin, spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, responded Tuesday.
Under the storm caused by Biden’s statements on Taiwan, the leaders of the Quad, the alliance formed by the US, Australia, Japan and India, were convened in Tokyo this Tuesday around the mantra of promoting a “free and open Indo-Pacific”. widely seen as a counterweight to China’s growing influence in the region. The four countries have jointly held two naval exercises since 2020 and their leaders have met three times in two years, including a face-to-face summit at the White House.
During Donald Trump’s time in Washington, the Quad woke up as fast as it went back to sleep. Biden made it clear from the beginning of his term that he intended to strengthen ties with his allies in the region. He has in his favor that they all share various disputes with China.
Tokyo partners with Washington to monitor Chinese naval activity around the Senkaku Islands, claimed by the Japanese and Chinese. India has already become used to clashes with China on the more than 3,000-kilometre border they share in the Himalayas. And Australia has been immersed in its worst diplomatic relations in decades with the Asian country for two years, specifically since Beijing imposed tariffs on Australian products such as wine, barley and beef, despite having a free trade agreement signed in 2015.
The new Australian Prime Minister, Labor Anthony Albanese, has been the rookie in this meeting of the Quad led by Biden and in which there was also the Japanese Fumio Kishida and the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who has distanced himself in recent months. of the allied democracies for their country’s position after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
India has been juggling for three months not to condemn Moscow’s attack, walking the equidistant line of not giving up its millionaire agreements with Putin, but it does not want to anger its traditional partner in Washington either. Following the meeting, the Australian Albanese told reporters that the leaders shared “strong views” on the Russia talks. Although in the joint statement they issued no direct mention of Russia, which can be understood as a concession to India’s ambiguous position.
More direct were the individual comments at the end of the meeting. “Russia’s unilateral, illegal and immoral attack on the people of Ukraine is an outrage and the atrocities being committed against innocent civilians is something we could not have expected in the 21st century,” said Australia’s Prime Minister. “Russia’s assault on Ukraine only increases the importance of the objectives of the fundamental principles of international order, territorial integrity and sovereignty,” Biden defended.
The Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) was born as a simple association of mutual aid after the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, when the four countries came together to provide humanitarian assistance. The alliance was formalized in 2007 by the then Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, but was inactivated a few months later when Australia announced its withdrawal to strengthen commercial ties with China. It took until 2017 to see the group revived in response to Beijing’s growing regional influence. Since President Xi Jinping came to power, the regime has pursued an increasingly assertive foreign policy, boasting economic and military strength.
The Quad democracies defend the revival of their alliance over their rival’s moves, which range from building artificial islands in the South China Sea, putting pressure on Taiwan, or sending its coast guards and fighter jets to surround the disputed islands with Japan. Also because of the rapprochement with Russia, especially after, at the beginning of the year, a few before the invasion of Ukraine, Xi signed an “unlimited” partnership with Vladimir Putin.
The leaders of the four Quad nations promised on Tuesday to unite for a “free and open Indo-Pacific”, a recurring expression of the allies that Beijing always translates as an attempt to create an “Indo-Pacific NATO”. The group’s most prominent announcement was the launch of a satellite-based maritime initiative, the Indo-Pacific Association for Maritime Dominance Awareness (IPMDA), to help countries in the region “track illegal fishing and militias unconventional maritime forces”, in clear reference to the movements of Chinese fishing vessels that sometimes act more like military than maritime militias.
During the meeting, Washington pledged to provide more Covid-19 booster shots and pediatric vaccine doses to Indo-Pacific countries, while India has said it will expand its serum manufacturing capacity. The partners also announced their joint climate change plans, starting with the creation of two ministerial task forces aimed at developing “green” shipping corridors between member countries and cleaning up supply chains through increased deployment of hydrogen and the minimization of methane emissions.
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