The four states agree on almost everything: Under US leadership, they want to maintain free order in the Indo-Pacific in the face of China’s power struggle. But in the Ukraine war, India broke.
Tokyo/Munich – The most obvious thing is what is not said: it’s about China. The quartet of leading democracies wants to work together even more closely in the Indo-Pacific. At a summit on Tuesday, the so-called alliance of four United States, Japan, Australia and India reiterated that such conflicts in Ukraine in the region must be avoided at all costs. “We firmly oppose coercive, provocative or unilateral actions aimed at changing the status quo and increasing tensions in the region,” the statement said after the Tokyo summit. The unspoken backdrop is China’s growing power struggle in the region.
The summit was hosted by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, US President Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australia’s new Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese. Albanese had been sworn in just the day before. The four states unite for a free and open Indo-Pacific. In Tokyo, the Quad state launched, among other things, a new initiative to improve maritime surveillance, which is also meant to combat illegal fishing in the region. According to the White House, the project will enable “faster, broader and more accurate” ocean surveillance in the near future.
Vessels that specifically turn off their positional transmissions to avoid being caught should also be better positioned with the system. China is often accused of tolerating or even encouraging illegal fishing in the territorial waters of other countries in the region. According to the decision, data from the system must also be available to partner countries in Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean, and island nations in the Pacific.
Ukraine War: Quad members as well as China officially neutral
On Tuesday, Biden also described the Ukraine war launched by Russia as a global challenge. “This is more than just a European problem, it’s a global problem,” Biden said. “We are moving through a dark time in our history together.” Once again, China has come under fire for its refusal to condemn the Russian attack. But in the quad group things are quite complicated. Because India is also firmly neutral in the conflict. New Delhi does not support western sanctions and even buys large quantities of additional Russian oil at low prices. In April, Russia became India’s fourth largest oil supplier, and the trend is still increasing.
India has traditionally had good relations with Moscow and buys a lot of Russian weaponry. The summit declaration therefore made no mention of the Russian attack. It said only that the four had discussed their “respective answers” to the “conflict in Ukraine” and its consequences. However, Albanese said afterwards that a “clear opinion” about Russia was expressed at the meeting. Since the start of the war, the West had tried unsuccessfully to get India to side with it.
There is more unity in dealing with China. All four countries have issues with China’s quest for power in the region. Both India and Japan have territorial conflicts with China: India in the Himalayas, Japan in the East China Sea. Australia, for its part, is concerned about China’s growing activity in the Pacific – especially in light of the security deals Beijing recently struck with the Solomon Islands. Therefore, dealing with China played an unusually large role in Australia’s recent election campaign.
US: Economic Alliances and Partnerships in the Indo-Pacific
The US is currently forging a dense network of security policy alliances in the Indo-Pacific. These included the Aukus alliances with Australia and Great Britain, which included the delivery of American nuclear submarines to Canberra. Therefore Beijing has long accused Washington of pursuing a policy of containment. The United States, on the other hand, has been less active in economic cooperation with Asia for a long time. But that will now change: On Tuesday, Biden unveiled a new framework agreement for economic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region called IPEF, which will also include Japan, Australia, India and nine other countries – but not China.
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So far, however, IPEF has not reached an agreement very far. Above all, it’s about bringing the region’s states closer to the United States through common rules for technology companies, shared protection of supply chains, or a common fight against climate change. IPEF is not a tariff reduction trade agreement. For such a move, Biden would need approval in the US Congress, and that is by no means certain. Therefore, many experts criticize IPEF as haphazard. It is therefore uncertain whether the initiative will generate great euphoria and real cooperation in the region.
Indo-Pacific: Taiwan security in focus
In light of the Ukraine war, Taiwan’s security is once again the focus of the US and its allies. In the run-up to the summit, Biden had warned China of an attack on Taiwan with an unbelievably clear promise of military assistance. However, on Tuesday, he backed off a bit. When asked by reporters that the policy of “strategic ambiguity” in dealing with China and Taiwan still applies, he reiterated: “No. That policy has not changed at all.” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had stressed late Monday that Biden’s remarks did not imply a change of direction in US politics.
It remains unclear whether the back and forth was a strategic calculation or rather a mistake. The contradictory statements could be a strategy to send a signal to Beijing that Washington will not tolerate aggressive changes to the status quo, the Hong Kong resident wrote. South China Morning Post citing analysts. Either way, the US is providing more military support to Taiwan today than it was a few years ago: the US is supplying more weapons and training Taiwanese soldiers. As China exerts increasing pressure on Taiwan, there are concerns that China may feel emboldened to launch an invasion of the democratically-ruled island in the shadow of the war in Ukraine. The People’s Republic sees Taiwan as a breakaway province and has never ruled out violent conquest. (tsk)
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