The Meaning of Progress in Indo-Pacific and Quad Collaboration

While the vast area across the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean is being recognized as a unique strategic space, the way of order in this "Indo-Pacific" region has become a major issue for the countries involved.

By Mie Oba


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While the vast area across the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean is being recognized as a unique strategic space, the way of order in this “Indo-Pacific” region has become a major issue for the countries involved. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) between Japan, the U.S., Australia, and India is considered the driving force for realizing a “free and open” Indo-Pacific.

In the COVID-stricken world of 2020, with intensifying U.S.-China confrontation as China’s hardline stance became evermore apparent, the member states recognized the importance of the Quad, which led to further progress in the cooperation.

The positive stance of the Biden administration that began in January 2021 also served as a catalyst, and the first Quad Leader’s Summit was held in March 2021. European countries, including the U.K., France, and Germany, each with their own motives, have also expressed their stance on involvement in the Indo-Pacific affairs and are seeking to collaborate with the Quad. The intent of the four countries is still mixed in complicated ways. What does the Quad aim in this situation? And what are its issues?


As the competition between the major powers of the U.S. and China intensifies, all eyes are on the progress of the Quad cooperation.

The first Quad Leaders’ Summit held online in March 2021 with U.S. President Biden, Australian Prime Minister Morrison, Indian Prime Minister Modi, and Japanese Prime Minister Suga was a symbolic event. The “Spirit of the Quad,” a document adopted as the joint statement, confirmed that the leaders of the four countries “bring diverse perspectives and are united in a shared vision for the free and open Indo-Pacific.”*1

What generated the idea of a Japan-U.S.-Australia-India partnership and the regional concept of the Indo-Pacific were the three interrelated changes that had surfaced since the mid-2000s.

The first is the rise of emerging powers such as China and India. The second was the deep damage to the U.S. credibility and signs of its declining weight as a hegemonic power stemming from its unilateralist foreign policy actions in the Iraq War and the subsequent chaos in the region. These two changes led to the third one: the wavering of the liberal international order, which had been supported by the U.S.-led unipolar system since the end of the Cold War.

The rise of emerging economies, the decline of the U.S. hegemonic power, and the resulting unrest in the liberal international order accelerated in the 2010s. The liberal international order is, for better or worse, led by mostly Western developed countries, and supported by values including human rights, democracy, rule of law, good governance, and market economy. Throughout the 2010s, the rise of emerging powers, especially China, has further shaken this order.

The Indo-Pacific was influenced by the wavering liberal international order to emerge as a strategic space. The Quad involving Japan, the U.S., Australia, and India stood up to counter the challenges to the existing order.*2 However, the four countries had widely different views and did not always share the same vision for the Indo-Pacific. Even now, they have not completely converged in one direction.*3

Although sharing the same concerns about China, they each have circumstances that force them to be weak-kneed in some parts. This has led to ambiguity on what the Quad aims and what it can achieve. Yet, despite this ambiguity, the cooperation between the four countries has gradually strengthened.

Amid the COVID pandemic in 2020, the U.S.-China confrontation has intensified over various issues, including the state of the maritime order, superiority in advanced technology development, human rights, and democratization, with the regional order becoming increasingly uncertain. An entirely new level of concern for China and a sense of urgency in the future of the region have rapidly strengthened and institutionalized the Quad.

The summit meeting was symbolic of this trend. The importance of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and strengthening the Quad is mentioned not only within the region but also in global forums such as the G7. Democracy, the rule of law, and freedom of navigation and overflight are values emphasized particularly by the Quad. Besides the South China Sea and the East China Sea, issues on Taiwan are increasingly covered head-on in the Quad discussions. China is showing vehement opposition and caution against enhanced Quad cooperation.

While there is a passionate debate on calling the intensifying U.S.-China competition the new Cold War, the Quad is positioned as the core within one side of the opposing camps.

Besides quadrilateral meetings and real or table-top joint drills, the accumulation of dialogues and cooperation between the four countries through bilateral collaborations such as Japan-U.S., Japan-Australia, U.S.-Australia, and U.S.-India, or trilateral collaborations such as Japan-U.S.-Australia and Japan-U.S.-India, also support the Quad. Meanwhile, even as the four countries bolster fears against China, in reality, they still need to maintain a certain level of China relations from security and economic perspectives.

In this context, to what extent does the Quad maintain its solidarity, and what exactly is it trying to achieve? And will the “democratic values” the Quad now upholds have the unifying force to bring in more supporting countries?

Ⅰ. The Introduction and Development of the Quad

According to one account, the Quad originated from the Tsunami Core Group established by Japan, the U.S., Australia, and India for coordinating international relief for the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami disaster in Sumatra Island, Indonesia. However, it was not until 2007, when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proposed a strategic dialog among these four countries, that it attracted attention as a collaboration with strategic importance.

The aim was to be vigilant and cautious against the rise of China, to deepen cooperation with Japan’s ally, the U.S., and Australia, a U.S.-related quasi-ally, then also attract India. That May, the director-general level meeting of the four countries was held. In September, Japan, Australia, and Singapore participated in Malabar 07-2, a bilateral naval exercise between the U.S. and India around the Bay of Bengal, which in effect realized a joint drill for the Quad.

However, the four countries did not meet together until 2017. The Quad once came to a standstill, so to speak. The direct reasons were the resignation of Prime Minister Abe, the main driver of the Quad, and lack of enthusiasm by his successor, Yasuo Fukuda, and Australia’s withdrawal from Quad by Prime Minister Rudd who took office in December 2007, as he prioritized considerations for Beijing.

Furthermore, a fundamental reason was that, although Japan, the U.S., Australia, and India shared an awareness of the shift in international order and the need for countermeasures, they did not necessarily agree and were ambivalent on the direction to proceed.*4

However, changes such as the rise of emerging powers, falling U.S. hegemony, and the resulting wavering of the liberal international order continued and accelerated in the 2010s, as described earlier. In particular, the “rise of China” was the center of the disturbance.

The “hardline” aspect was clear in its attitude toward sovereignty-related issues, especially territorial disputes. China’s series of actions, such as the intensifying activities of Chinese public vessels, the Scarborough Shoal standoff, the establishment of a defense identification zone in the East China Sea, the large-scale and rapid reclamation of islands and reefs under its effective control in the South China Sea, and the construction of various structures believed to be military facilities, have deepened the concerns of neighboring countries.

The “soft” aspect showed in the advocacy of “win-win relations” including regional initiatives such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The AIIB gained support from many Asian and other countries and kicked off in January 2015. As Chinese support and investments progressed under the banner of BRI, the BRI Forum was held in Beijing in May 2017, and many countries with high hopes for the initiative sent government official delegates. The forum was also held in 2019.

However, domestic controls on free speech and activities have tightened dramatically in the Xi Jinping administration. In particular, the repression of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and the response to pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong have left an ever more strong impression that China goes against the values and norms fundamental to the liberal international order, such as human rights and democracy.

That China has maintained and strengthened a regime violating human rights and ignoring democracy, while achieving economic development, cannot be overlooked. This may present the world with a “Chinese model” that denies the relation between democratization and economic development. Its negative impact on the region and the world was also perceived as a threat from the camp wanting to maintain the existing liberal international order.

This concern towards China, the formidable challenger to the existing liberal international order, was the main reason the Indo-Pacific emerged as the new strategic space throughout the 2010s. Concern over China’s rise also heightened expectations for another major emerging power, India, as an indispensable partner in the collaboration to contain China. In this context, various concepts and strategies for the Indo-Pacific were proposed.

One example was the Japanese version of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) concept, which Prime Minister Abe reportedly proposed in his August 2016 speech in Nairobi. The concept implied an orientation for balancing China.*5  Also, the U.S. Trump administration, launched in January 2017, advocated an American version of the FOIP strategy with an extremely strong intention to contain China. This version of the FOIP regarded China clearly as a strategic competitor and showed an apparent containment stance towards China.

Against this backdrop, in November 2017, Japan, the U.S., Australia, and India took the opportunity at the ASEAN Summit in Manila to hold a director-general level meeting for Indo-Pacific discussions. Then, following the director-general-level dialogues in June and November 2018, the first Quad Foreign Ministers’ Meeting was held in September 2019.

What’s notable is the accumulation of actual cooperation, including enhanced system framework and joint drills for dialogue and cooperation at the bilateral (Japan-U.S., Japan-Australia, Japan-India, U.S.-Australia, U.S.-India, Australia-India) and trilateral (Japan-U.S.-Australia) level in the 10 years from 2007.

Progress was especially significant during this period in defense cooperation among Japan-U.S., Japan Australia, U.S.-Australia and Japan-U.S.-Australia through the Foreign and Defense Ministerial Consultations (2+2), Japan-U.S.-Australia Security and Defense Cooperation Forum (SDCF), a director-general level meeting, and marine and land joint drills. U.S.-India and Japan-India also advanced their security cooperation. In 2017, the U.S., Japan, and India conducted joint drills in the waters east of India in July and in the Sea of Japan in October.

The accumulation of these reinforced bilateral and trilateral collaborations supported the revival of the Quad in 2017. We could call the development of Japan-U.S.-Australia-India cooperation since the 2017 revival as “Quad 2.0.”*6

Alongside the strengthening of quadrilateral-level cooperation, bilateral and trilateral cooperation including consultations, dialogues, and joint drills were also further promoted. Quad 2.0 emerged and developed because the four countries shared to some extent the concern and urgency over the evermore visible rise of China in the 2010s and the fact it would not fit within the existing regional order but would change the status quo.

In particular, Japan, the U.S., and Australia are countries that clearly stand on the side of the existing liberal international order, and it was relatively easy for them to share the sense of crisis over the wavering order. These countries felt strong concern on various issues in terms of values and norms such as human rights and democracy, through China’s expanding maritime interests, its growing influence through BRI and other economic activities, strict domestic control, and interference in internal affairs that surfaced in Australia.

Meanwhile, although considered a “democratic” country, it is difficult to say India is in line with Japan, the U.S., and Australia in defending the existing liberal international order.*7 Yet, India, too, was becoming increasingly concerned about China.

India has long had a border dispute with China, and there have been frequent military incidents at the border. For about two and a half months from June 2017, Indian troops confronted Chinese troops on the China-Bhutan border, becoming a hair-trigger situation. The incident was a forceful reminder of the unstable factor involved in China-India relations.

The Modi administration also showed strong concern about China’s expanding economic influence over South Asian countries such as Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan through BRI, by refusing to attend the BRI Forum. China’s maritime expansion into the Indian Ocean was also a situation requiring caution.*8

However, Japan, the U.S., Australia, and India each needed to avoid souring relations critically with China. Economic relations with China were especially important for all countries. In addition, since Japan and India are geographically close to China and have territorial disputes and conflicts with the country, a definitive confrontation with Beijing would mean a worsening of the security environment. Therefore, they wanted a certain degree of stable relations and tried to avoid excessive provocations.

At the two Quad High-Level Meetings in 2018 and the First Dissolution Conference in 2019, they advocated a “free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific.” “Inclusive” is a political term that indicates openness to any country, including China, and shows traces of consideration for Beijing.*9

When we look at the individual cases, the Abe administration’s FOIP weakened its contained tone toward China, as relations with Beijing softened around the spring of 2017, shifting to a concept more conciliatory towards China, suggestive of chances for cooperation.*10

Also, Indian Prime Minister Modi held two informal meetings with Xi Jinping in April 2018 and October 2019, where he stated the strengthening of the two country’s relations, despite border disputes and economic friction.*11 In his June 2018 Shangri-La Dialogue speech, Modi said that the Indo-Pacific is a “free, open and inclusive” region and did not refer to Quad. He also stated his hopes for the development of Sino-Indian relations.*12

Ⅱ. The COVID Crisis and the Quad’s Progress

As the COVID crisis shook the world, 2020 was a year when existing rifts between the U.S. and China and various other places became even more visible and severe. While China, which had quickly contained the outbreak, pursued aggressive mask diplomacy, and sought to expand its political influence, the U.S. also launched various supportive measures. The race to expand influence through sanitation and medical support can be observed in the subsequent development of vaccine diplomacy mainly by the U.S., Europe, China, and India.

Meanwhile, China sped up its maritime expansion into the East and South China Seas in 2020. In the waters surrounding the Senkaku Islands, a total 1,161 China Coast Guard (CCG) ships were active for 333 days in 2020, setting a record.*13 In April 2020, China announced the establishment of the “Xisha District” and the “Nansha District” under Sansha City in Hainan Province, to further justify its effective control of these waters. There were also many collision incidents with Vietnamese fishing vessels.

As the Japanese government protested repeatedly against China’s activities, the China threat theory spread across Japan. The postponement of President Xi Jinping’s planned visit to Japan in the spring of 2020 because of the pandemic was symbolic of the cooling Japan-China relations. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia also sent a letter to the United Nations stating that China’s territorial claims had no basis, and moves to criticize and contain China’s expansion of maritime interests emerged.

China’s authoritarian attitude further intensified in 2020. Its suppression of Hong Kong’s democracy movement, represented by the enforcement of the Hong Kong’s national security law in June, along with the crackdown on Tibet and human rights abuses against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, further fueled the West’s critical stance toward China.

In addition, the tightening of free speech on intellectuals within the regime, such as the expulsion of Professor Xu Zhangrun of Tsinghua University for criticizing the Party Central Government’s measures against the COVID pandemic, also promoted the West’s critical stance.

As the U.S., Japan, and Europe turned a critical eye toward China, Australia and India also experienced events that hardened their stances toward Beijing. As mentioned earlier, Australia-China relations were already cooling, but in April 2020, when Australian Prime Minister Morrison called for an independent investigation into the origin of the COVID-!9, relations between the two countries soured decisively.

China reacted furiously to this statement by imposing de facto sanctions, including additional tariffs on Australian barley, wine, lobster, coal, and lumber. In June 2021, the Australian government filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) against China for imposing sanctions on Australian barley and wine.

India also experienced a decisive event in its China relations. In June 2020, a major military clash broke out in the disputed Ladakh region between the two countries. Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi agreed not to escalate the issue. China released Indian prisoners of war, and the two countries took care not to damage critically Sino-Indian relations in the incident.

However, minor military clashes have occurred between them to date. In addition, India’s wariness of China’s economic penetration led to its decision in April 2020 to effectively require government approval for foreign direct investment from China, as well as its decision not to join the RCEP, which was signed in November 2020. One reason India did not participate was its wariness that the large trade deficit it had built up with China would further balloon, hurting its domestic industry.

The U.S.-China confrontation also surged to a new level. In July 2021, U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo issued a series of statements that marked a major shift from the previous diplomatic stance. On July 13, he called China’s maritime expansion in the South China Sea illegal and said, “The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire.” Two days later, he stated that “we will support countries all across the world who recognize that China has violated their legal territorial claims.”

This was a major shift in the U.S. position, which had been neutral on the South China Sea territorial claims. On July 23, Pompeo declared the U.S. engagement with China was a dismal failure and stated the policy to create a network for opposing China. This statement, which revealed a major shift from the American policy of engagement with China since Kissinger’s Beijing visit, left the world with the impression that the U.S.-China confrontation had entered a new phase.

Furthermore, the Trump administration has strengthened economic sanctions against China, to promote decoupling in the high-tech sector and over concern on human rights abuses in Hong Kong and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

In addition, bilateral and trilateral joint drills involving the four countries were frequently conducted during the year, including Japan-India joint drills in June and September 2020, and Australia-India joint drill in September 2021, and Japan-U.S. joint drill in July 2021. In August 2020, the Japan-India Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) was signed.

The deepening of such bilateral and trilateral cooperation began prior to 2020, as mentioned earlier. And these developments gave the impression that despite the difference between India and the other three countries on the existing liberal international order, they were transcending those differences and deepening cooperation.

It was under these circumstances the second Quad Foreign Ministers’ Meeting was held in October 2020. In November 2020, for the first time in 13 years, joint maritime drills were conducted by the four countries, with Australia joining the Malabar, a joint exercise between the U.S., Japan, and India. These showed a further deepening of the Quad.

China expressed strong concern and opposition towards such progress and deepening in the Quad cooperation. In mid-October, during his visit to Malaysia, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi strongly denounced the Quad, stating that it is aimed at building a so-called Indo-Pacific “new NATO.”*14 This is quite a change from his previous attitude that derided the Quad as something that will “dissipate like sea foam.”

In opposition to the decoupling, the Trump administration pushed further in 2020 from the point of economic security, human rights, and democracy, China enforced the Export Control Law in December 2020. This regulates strategic goods and other exports by allowing exports to foreign companies to be withheld for security and other reasons.

Ⅲ. The Quad Enters New Stage

As the awareness on the Chinese threat heightened and the U.S.-China confrontation deepened on various dimensions, such as the maritime order, economic security, values, and norms, the administration by Biden who took office in January 2021, basically followed the previous administration’s hardline stance toward China, and in this context, set the policy to emphasize “Indo-Pacific” and Quad cooperation.

In addition to the Biden administration’s stance, the growing concern over China’s maritime expansion, by the U.S., Japan, other Quad members, as well as other Asian and European countries, backed up the Quad.

The enactment of the China Coast Guard (CCG) Law in January 2021 and its enforcement on February 1, 2021, expanded the authority of the CCG Bureau to use weapons and clarified anew its mandate to conduct defensive operations and other missions. This was widely recognized as an attempt to turn the CCG Bureau into a paramilitary organization. It also fueled concerns for a Taiwan Contingency, bringing the Taiwan issue into greater focus in the Quad.

The Quad Leaders’ Summit in March 2021 marked a new phase of cooperation among the four countries. It was also important in that the Quad philosophy and pillars of cooperation were clearly articulated at the summit level.

The “Spirit of the Quad,” the joint declaration adopted at the meeting, opened with a statement that the U.S., Australia, India, and Japan are “united” in a “vision for the free and open Indo-Pacific,” and that they seek to “uphold peace and prosperity and strengthen democratic resilience, based on universal values.”

The political term “inclusive” is used twice in the statement to indicate a conciliatory stance with China, but more striking is the emphasis on “democratic values” or “democratic resilience” as the norms and values underpinning the Quad cooperation. This clearly shows the characterization of the Quad as a “democratic alliance.”

The “Spirit of the Quad” also confirms promoting order based on international law and the stance of supporting freedom of navigation and overflight. Although it does not point the finger at China, it indirectly shows an orientation toward restraining China’s expansion of maritime interests, the direct cause for the emergence of the “Indo-Pacific” and the Quad.

The Quad leaders presented specific cooperation on the three areas of vaccine distribution, climate issues, and critical and emerging technologies at the summit.*15 Among them, the critical and emerging technologies is a key area of cooperation, related to economic security with an eye on China.

Already since the Trump era, the U.S. has been decoupling the high-tech sector by banning Chinese high-tech firms, with Huawei-related companies as the major target. The Biden administration basically continued the policy, decoupling along two lines. One is sanctions against China for its strengthening authoritarian regime and human rights abuses, and the other is sanctions for keeping out Chinese high-tech industries through consideration for high-tech hegemony and closely related economic security.

The U.S. is attempting to proceed the decoupling by strengthening cooperation with its allies, and Japan, Australia, and India are responding to this policy. In July 2021, the first meeting on innovative technologies was held online among the four countries, and they agreed on the policy to lead international cooperation on innovative technologies, including artificial intelligence and semiconductors.

The Quad cooperation places particular emphasis on the Taiwan issue. As mentioned earlier, based on the urgency that a Taiwan Contingency may become a reality, the Biden administration has taken steps to strengthen defense cooperation with Taiwan, while maintaining the “One-China” principle. Since the Senkaku Islands are geographically close to Taiwan, Japan also feels increasing urgency.

At the Japan-U.S. Summit in April 2021, President Biden and Prime Minister Suga confirmed in a joint statement, “We underscore the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”*16 In May 2021, Japan, the U.S., Australia, and France conducted joint drills in the East China Sea with the defense of remote islands in mind. Against these backdrops, China has become more sensitive to references to the Taiwan issue by the U.S. and others.

Ⅳ. The Quad’s Issues

Finally, I would like to discuss the issues and concerns of the Quad that has entered a new phase—what we may call “Quad 3.0.” First, as for the extent of efforts to contain China and prioritize the Quad, Japan, the U.S., Australia, and India each have delicate situations.

The biggest concern is India’s attitude. Although India is placing greater emphasis on strengthening relations with Japan, the U.S., and Australia than in the past, it has traditionally committed to non-alignment and avoids strengthening relations with specific countries. In addition, as mentioned earlier, India’s position in the existing liberal international order differs from that of Japan, the U.S., and Australia.

Therefore, India is in the most complex position on strengthening the Quad cooperation. On the other hand, India is indispensable in balancing China.

Therefore, Japan, the U.S., and Australia are always required to give special consideration to India when presenting Quad cooperation. For example, the Vaccine Partnership, primarily based on providing India-made vaccines, was set as the centerpiece of the March 2021 Summit to ensure India’s participation.*17

Also in late April 2021, in a telephone conference, Indian Prime Minister Modi agreed with Russian President Putin to establish 2+2 foreign and defense ministerial dialogue, showing India is not solely inclined towards the Quad. Concerning China, although confrontations at the border continue, it seems to avoid letting this completely sour relations with the country.

The Australian economy has also been hit hard by the faltering Australia-China relations, and there are many indications of domestic opposition and concern on this. For example, in June 2021, Western Australia Premier McGowan criticized the Australian government’s antagonistic attitude towards China at an oil and gas conference and called for diplomacy “in the national interest” by focusing on relations with China, the largest trading partner.*18

If public support for the Morrison administration declines from the slumping economy, or in the case of administration change, we need to pay particular attention to how far Australia can maintain its pro-Quad stance.

The intensifying U.S.-China confrontation and partial decoupling are also affecting Japan’s economy significantly. Unlike the U.S., Japan is China’s neighbor, and completely souring relations with it would endanger Japan’s security to a greater degree, even though the Senkaku Islands issue exists. For these various reasons, Japan will face the hard task of maintaining a certain level of relations with China while balancing it by strengthening the Quad cooperation.

The future of the Quad will also depend on how far the U.S. will commit to the long-term “competition” with China. As mentioned above, while the Biden administration is already aware the international order is no longer unipolar around the U.S., it is strengthening cooperation with its allies and exerting pressure on China through partial decoupling through high-tech regulations and saber-rattling to engage in a prolonged contest with China.*19

However, as globalization involving China and the U.S. deepens and expands, it is impossible to shut out completely the Chinese economy. Also, the competition in technological development will not be limited to regulations for preventing technology outflow, but also require a wide range of complex measures, including the establishment of an independent supply chain network on advanced technology and the creation of rules for big data management.

In addition, maintaining a commitment to the Indo-Pacific will be an even more important issue for the Quad and other Indo-Pacific countries in the future.

To realize an Indo-Pacific that is “free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion,” while enduring a prolonged competition with China, the Quad is not enough on its own, and efforts to expand cooperation as Quad Plus is required.

In doing so, we need to consider the merits and demerits of upholding democracy in the Quad. While the “retreat of democracy” has been an issue worldwide over the past few years, advocating democracy has great significance. And it is even more so as China strengthens its authoritarian regime. Yet, in this context, the Quad’s emphasis on the value and norm of democracy also means drawing a clear line between “us” and “them.”

The European countries that are increasingly involved in the Indo-Pacific will be open to a democratic coalition.

Meanwhile, countries in the Indo-Pacific, especially Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar, that are strengthening their authoritarian regime, would be pushed out to “their” side. As for Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore that seek a certain level of involvement by the U.S. and other Quad countries to contain China, would not want an outright confrontation with the above authoritarian-oriented countries from the need to maintain ASEAN’s unity.

Precisely because democracy is currently wavering around the world, there is significance in advocating democracy. With this in mind, the actual approach to non-Quad nations requires careful consideration of each country’s circumstances.

When considering its importance in the security of Northeast Asia, South Korea’s involvement is essential in promoting the Quad Plus.

The joint statement adopted at the U.S.-South Korea summit in late May 2021 also referred to the Taiwan issue and the important role of the Quad. The Biden administration seems to seek for strengthening of South Korea-Quad collaboration and, in relation to that, stabilize Japan-South Korea relations and Japan-U.S.-South Korea collaboration.

If the Quad stands for democratic values and democratic resilience, it would be natural for it to consider strengthening ties with South Korea, which adopts a democratic system. South Korea also has many obstacles, such as the turbulent relationship with Japan and geopolitical position requiring special considerations for China. However, to expand the Quad, it will be important to approach South Korea.

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 and the subsequent confusion among its allies symbolized the decline of the U.S. as a hegemonic power. When the U.S. can no longer support the international order by itself, the search for order in the Indo-Pacific, whether it is the Quad or the Quad Plus, will become even more important through cooperation involving various countries, including superpowers, middle-powers, and minor powers.


*1 Quad Leaders’ Joint Statement: “The Spirits of the Quad,” March 12, 2021,

*2 There are many preceding studies on the “region” Indo-Pacific, strategies and concepts based on it, and the development of the closely related Quad cooperation. The following are major studies (in Japanese) that analyze the overall picture of this regional concept and the development of collaborations, referred to in this article:
Yoshinobu Yamamoto, “On the Indo-Pacific Concept,” “Security Order in Asia (Especially in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean),” Japan Institute of International Affairs, 2013; Matake Kamiya, “Japan and the ‘Indo-Pacific’: Expectations and Problems,” “Security Order in Asia (Especially the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean),” Japan Institute of International Affairs, 2013; Matake Kamiya, “Japan’s Asian Strategy and the ‘Indo-Pacific,'” “Japanese Diplomacy in the Age of Indo-Pacific: Responding to Swing States” Japan Institute of International Affairs, 2015, Kazutoshi Tamari, “How the Concept ‘Indo-Pacific’ Spread,” Journal of International Security vol. 43, no. 1, 2015; Akihiko Tanaka, “The Range of the ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy,'” GAIKO (Diplomacy), vol. 47, 2018; Ken Jimbo, “The Range and Issues of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ Concept,” Journal of International Security, vol. 46, no. 3, 2018. Ken Jimbo, “India’s Pacific Security: Convergence as a Strategic Space,” International Affairs, no. 687 (December 2019); Nagafumi Nakamura, “The Merits and Demerits of an Ambiguous ‘Indo-Pacific’: From a Political Perspective,” Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Staff College Review, December 2019, pp. 20-37; Teruaki Aizawa, “Recent Developments in Individual ‘Indo-Pacific Policies’ and FOIP,” December 24, 2020.

*3 Nakamura’s “The Merits and Demerits of an Ambiguous ‘Indo-Pacific’” marshals and analyzes the ambiguous “Indo-Pacific.”

*4 In an interview with the Nikkei, Prime Minister Rudd explained the reason Quad failed was that when he took office, the administrations of Japan, the U.S.’s George W. Bush, and India’s Singh were reluctant of this initiative, and that the significance of this strategic dialogue was not clear at the outset. He also made a similar statement in a contributed article in “Foreign Affairs.” I believe his point is correct as the fundamental reason of the Quad’s failure. “Kevin Rudd: Involved Parties Should Clarify Their Stance in Containing China,” The Nikkei, April 13, 2019; Rudd, Kevin “Why the Quad Alarms China: Its Success Poses a Major Threat to Beijing’s Ambitions” Foreign Affairs, August 6, 2021.

*5 Mie Oba “Japan’s Indo-Pacific Concept“ Journal of International Security, 2019, pp.20-22

*6 The name “Quad 2.0” tends to be used primarily in policy analysis discussions. For example:
Huong Le Thu ed., QUAD 2.0: New Perspectives for revived concept, Strategic Insights, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 2019
(accessed on August 1, 2021), Manoj Rawat, “QUAD 2.0 is Off to a Good Start—It must keep going,” November 23, 2020, The Diplomat, (accessed August 1, 2021)

*7 For the different views on order between Japan-U.S.-Australia and India, see Tomohiko Satake “Can the Japan-U.S.-Australia-India Security Cooperation Be Realized?: Different Takes on Order and the Implication for Japan,” Briefing Memo, July 2018.

*8 For India’s ambivalent response on the Quad at the time, refer to:
Takemori Horimoto, “’Free and Open Indo-Pacific’: India’s Response Is Neither Too Close or Too Far,”, September 14, 2018, (in Japanese, accessed on July 28, 2021), Ken Jimbo, “’Indo-Pacific Strategy’ and the Silence of Japan-U.S.-Australia-India ‘Quad Cooperation,’” The Canon Institute for Global Studies, June 13, 2018, (in Japanese, accessed on August 2, 2021)

*9 Shibuya points out the same in “Japan’s Indo-Pacific Diplomacy,” “Japan’s Indo-Pacific Concept,” p.23

*10 Oba “Japan’s Indo-Pacific Concept,” pp. 22-23

*11 “Top Informal Talk Between India and China: Discuss Issues and Relations,” Area/Analysis Report, JETRO (in Japanese, accessed on July 25, 2021), “Prime Minister Modi Holds Second Informal Talks with Xi Jinping,” Business Tankan, JETRO, October 21, 2019 (in Japanese, accessed on August 1, 2021)

*12 Modi’s Keynote address at Shangri La Dialogue, June 1, 2018, Singapore  (accessed on June 5, 2021)

*13 Defense of Japan 2021, p.18

*14 Wang Yi: U.S. “Indo-Pacific Strategy” Undermines Peace and Development Prospects in East Asia,” October 1, 2020, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, (accessed on July 26, 2021)

*15 Quad Summit Fact Sheet, March 12, 2021 (accessed on May 1, 2021)

*16 “Japan-U.S. Joint Leasers’ Statement: “Japan-U.S. Global Partnership for a New Era,” April 16, 2021

*17 “First Japan-U.S.-Australia-India Leaders’ Summit to Be Held on March 12,” The Nikkei, March 10, 2021

*18 “Australian Premier criticizes government’s anti-China attitude,” Reuters, June 15, 2021 (in Japanese, accessed on August 1, 2021)

*19 Toshihiro Nakayama “Can Biden’s China Policy Be Trusted?” Mita Review, August 5, 2021 (in Japanese, accessed on August 6, 2021)

Mie Oba
Professor of the Faculty of Law/Graduate School of Law, Kanagawa University. Born in 1968. Graduated International Christian University. Earned MA and Ph.D. from the University of Tokyo. Associate Professor and Professor at Tokyo University of Science, and Academic Research Associate of the US-Japan Program at Harvard University. At current position from April 2020. Specializes in international relations, international politics in Asia, and regionalism/regional integration in Asia.


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