The Quad Plus in the Security of Asia:
Its Significance and Outlook

Hideshi Tokuchi, Senior Fellow
National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies

1. Introduction

The Quad is said to have originated from the Tsunami Core Group run by senior diplomats from Japan, the United States, Australia, and India, which was created to coordinate international relief efforts in response to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami disaster. 1 At present, the Quad includes in its major agenda countermeasures against novel coronavirus infections. The 2004 coordination group and the Quad today share the same mission --- coordination of countermeasures against large-scale disasters. However, this fact does not soften or blur the character of the Quad as a coalition against China. Those who mention the 2004 disaster as the origin of the Quad may not intend to do so either. 2

Nevertheless, when it comes to the Quad Plus --- the subject of this essay ---, it makes sense to recall that the Quad arose from a response to a large-scale disaster in Southeast Asia. The Quad considers ASEAN to be a primary partner, and the challenges facing the Quad cannot be dealt with by those four countries alone. The experience of the 2004 disaster relief coordination may suggest the possibility that the four core group countries can serve as the nucleus of the Quad Plus as well. On the other hand, the 2004 coordination experience was not immediately conducive to the progress of the Quad, but it took a long time; the quadrilateral coalition has revived due to factors other than natural disasters. These facts indicate that the significance and necessity of such a multilateral framework were shared among the four members but failed to take root.

What connects the four countries together now is the relationship with China, which the US government considers to be "the greatest geopolitical challenge of the 21st century." 3 Along with the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami disaster, what is often credited as the origin of the Quad is the "security diamond" concept announced by Shinzo Abe shortly after the second Abe administration took office. 4 It was a "straightforward declaration that made no secret of its wariness of China's expansionist behavior" and that "made clear its opposition to China." 5 However, Japan's National Security Strategy formulated a year later mentioned Japan-US-Australia and Japan-US-India, but not Japan-US-Australia-India cooperation. 6 Even the concept of the Indo-Pacific did not appear in the National Security Strategy. In sum, the Quad has not been consistently pursued as a security framework. However, the National Security Strategy states that "Japan will appropriately contribute to the creation of a more institutional security framework in East Asia in the future." 7 It may be possible to position the Quad as such a framework.

Therefore, in this paper, I want to review the progress of the Quad, summarize its current status, and discuss the significance and potential of the Quad Plus.

2. Recent Progress of the Quad

Between November 2017 and December 2020, the Quad held seven Director-General-level meetings between the diplomatic authorities; three rounds of the foreign ministerial meeting including a telephone meeting between September 2019 and February 2021; and a summit meeting by video conference in March 2021. Neither the Director-Generals meetings nor the foreign ministerial meetings produced a joint document, and each country released post-meeting summaries of those meetings. However, at the recent summit meeting, a joint statement was issued for the first time by the four countries.

The following table shows whether each member country's summary documents refer to seven keywords: rules-based order, freedom of navigation, respect for international law, non-proliferation, North Korea, counterterrorism, and ASEAN, using three symbols (〇: including some reference, ×: including no reference and △: including an analogous reference). 8

Incidentally, the joint statement of the Quad summit meeting last March includes all the six keywords but non-proliferation. 17

In 2017, North Korean nuclear and missile development attracted a great deal of attention. Since 2020 the novel coronavirus infection has been a major issue. More recently, the coup d'état in Myanmar has come on the Quad's agenda. In other words, discussion topics at the Quad meetings have naturally varied depending on the situation at a given time. Nonetheless, I want to point out some trends observed from the meeting summaries.

First, Japan, the United States, and Australia differ from India concerning respect for international law and freedom of navigation. Compared to the other three countries, India has not made much mention of these issues. India denies foreign warships the right of innocent passage through its territorial waters. It requires that every foreign ship should give prior notice of entry or passage through Indian territorial waters and that every foreign country should apply for prior permission to conduct military exercises and activities in its EEZ. 18 A statement by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs in response to the "freedom of navigation" operation conducted by the US Navy in India's EEZ on April 7, 2021, also expressed the same position as before. 19 It is, therefore, no wonder that India has not mentioned freedom of navigation in its post-meeting releases. However, the recent post-meeting releases seem to indicate that the gap between the two sides is narrowing. India is a revisionist state that positions itself as a developing country and opposes the legal order led by developed countries. 20 Yet, the situation in India may be changing. 21

Secondly, the Quad discusses the issues of non-proliferation and North Korea from time to time. In particular, Japan has recently discussed the North Korea issue more than the other three countries. These are noteworthy because the Quad and the "free and open Indo-Pacific" concept tend to be discussed only in the context of relations with China. Some recent research also points out that Japan's diplomacy toward the Korean Peninsula and Japan-ROK/Japan-North Korea relations are "completely out of step with (Japan's) Indo-Pacific diplomacy and left up in the air from its regional order concept." 22

Third, concerning counterterrorism and ASEAN, there is no mention of ASEAN in the Quad meeting on November 27, 2017, but after that, all the four countries always refer to the two issues. Yoshihide Soeya analyzes their reference to ASEAN as a sign of "consideration for a recognition that the Indo-Pacific strategy aims at nothing else than rivalry with China." 23 The same may be true of their reference to counterterrorism.

3. The Current Status of the Quad

As of 2017, the Quad was a forum for consultations among director-generals from the foreign ministries of the four countries, which was followed by three foreign ministers' meetings and finally a summit-level Quad meeting. The Quad members decided to make the Quad summit a regular feature at the 2020 foreign ministers meeting. 24 Furthermore, "Quad Leaders' Joint Statement: ‘The Spirit of the Quad'" says: "At the leader level, we will hold an in-person summit by the end of 2021." 25 Frequent consultations will take place from now on.

The fact that a joint statement was released for the first time at the end of the Quad summit also testifies to the progress of the Quad.

Moreover, the Quad has now become more than a forum for foreign policy consultations. For example, in November 2019, the four countries held a counterterrorism cooperation tabletop exercise, 26 and in November 2020, the four countries' naval forces conducted a joint drill "Malabar 2020." 27 In other words, the four countries are now jointly implementing security measures, including military ones. As a result of the recent Quad summit, three working groups emerged: a vaccine expert working group, a critical- and emerging-technology working group, and a climate working group. Thus, a framework was worked out for cooperation among the four countries on important issues facing the international society. 28

These developments represent the progress of institutionalization of the Quad. The Quad is one of several mini-lateral cooperative frameworks in the Indo-Pacific region, including Japan-US-Australia, Japan-Australia-India, and Japan-US-ROK frameworks. The Quad's move toward institutionalization is particularly prominent compared to other mini-lateral frameworks.

Looking at the security relationships among the four countries, they have held "2+2" meetings at the ministerial level on not only Japan-US and US-Australia, but also Japan-Australia, US-India, and Japan-India bases. 29 Between Australia and India, their "2+2" meeting has been upgraded from the vice-ministerial level to the ministerial level. 30 In other words, the four countries have a ministerial-level "2+2" framework in any of their bilateral relationships; all the bilateral security relationships are progressing. In addition, there are ACSAs between Japan and the United States, Japan and Australia, the United States and Australia, and Japan and India, as well as a logistical support agreement between Australia and India and between the United States and India. 31 In this way, the institutionalization of security relationships between any two of the four countries is in progress. If these close bilateral security relations can be utilized, it may be possible to institutionalize security relations, eventually, among the four Quad countries.

4. Significance and Potential of the Quad Plus

Any issue the Quad should tackle is a vital global problem, such as rivalry with China, pandemics, climate change, and terrorism. North Korea is also a global threat, as it has now come to possess ICBM-class ballistic missiles. It is of great significance that the four great powers in the Indo-Pacific region work together to address these conundrums, but on the other hand, they could not be addressed by the four countries alone. Cooperation is a must with as many other voluntary countries as possible. This suggests the significance and potential of the Quad Plus concept.

The idea of the Quad Plus was promoted mainly by the Heritage Foundation to encourage the four countries of Japan, the United States, Australia, and India to resume intergovernmental security dialogue; expert meetings were held from 2013 to 2019 with the participation of the "Plus" countries. 32 Some media reported as a Quad Plus meeting a foreign vice-ministerial telephone conference on COVID-19 33 called in by the United States on March 20, 2020, among seven countries --- Japan, the United States, Australia, and India, plus New Zealand, South Korea, and Vietnam. 34 The "Meeting on the Novel Coronavirus Disease among Foreign Ministers of Interested Countries, Hosted by the United States" held on May 11, 2020, was attended by seven countries, including the four Quad members, Brazil, Israel, and South Korea. 35 Some media reported it also as a Quad Plus gathering. 36 In addition, in April this year, "La Perouse," a joint exercise by Japan, the United States, Australia, and France, was conducted as "La Perouse 21" with India. 37 Some media report the enlarged exercise event by the five countries also as a Quad Plus effort. 38 The United Kingdom has announced that it will invite Australia, India, and South Korea to the G7 summit this year. 39 It might be viewed as another example of the Quad Plus. The Quad Plus may be a reality already.

The Quad summit joint statement states, "Together, we commit to promoting a free, open rules-based order, rooted in international law to advance security and prosperity and counter threats to both in the Indo-Pacific and beyond." 40 Realization of such a universal principle necessitates cooperation with more countries. 41 Today, when more countries than ever before share a sense of caution toward China, the Quad as a coalition toward China attracts increasing interest. Meanwhile, India advocates cooperation with ASEAN, believing that the centrality and unity of ASEAN lies at the core of the new Indo-Pacific. This idea has contributed to a Quad policy in support of ASEAN centrality. 42 Furthermore, European countries commit more to the Indo-Pacific region than ever before, as seen in Germany's formulation of the policy guidelines for the Indo-Pacific region and its plan to dispatch naval frigates to the region. These moves also help to expand the possibilities of the Quad Plus.

The Quad, however, now faces several crucial challenges, both internal and external.

First of all, aside from the fact the Quad did not (or could not?) come up with shared meeting summaries until 2020, there are uncertain factors about mutual trust between the four members. With the Biden administration in power, the United States will explicitly focus on the Indo-Pacific region, maintain a hardline stance toward China, and emphasize relations with allies and partners. 43 Regarding the administration's "foreign policy for the middle class," however, it is pointed out that: "If ‘a foreign policy for the middle class' is carried out based on narrow economic interests claimed by ‘ordinary Americans,' will it not virtually lead to a foreign policy that is akin to Trump's America First doctrine, which would hinder the revival of US global leadership?" 44 How much confidence can the other three Quad members have on the US emphasis on alliances and partnerships? As for Japan, there is an argument: "(Japan) is ready to come into its own as a global power... But Japan needs to go further: as a frontline nation in the strategic competition with China" it has many things to do. 45 But it is unclear whether it can really meet these expectations. Some are concerned about its future, pointing to "long-term demographic weaknesses." 46 It is also equivocal whether Japan and Australia will be able to maintain their hardline stance toward China, given their economic ties with it. India, on the other hand, is a superpower-oriented country that holds fast to its autonomy. 47 A former senior official of India's Ministry of External Affairs has stated: "By virtue of its demographic, geographic, economic and military size, India is the only country that can counter China in the long term, even on its own." 48 Although India emphasizes that it is the world's largest democracy, the country is classified as "partly free" by Freedom House's Global Freedom Score, 49 and as "electoral autocracy" by the V-Dem Institute. 50 Concerns about India's political system make it a little difficult for the Quad to claim that it is a coalition of democratic states. At the time of US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin's visit to India last March, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Menendez asked the Secretary to raise the issues of democracy and human rights with the Indian side. 51 Menendez also expressed his concern over India's purchase of Russian S-400 missiles. 52 A recent research has pointed out that strengthening the strategic partnership with Russia is a manifestation of India's strategic autonomy. 53 This problem shows the difficulty of bringing India into this coalition while both Japan and Australia are building a stalwart alliance with the United States.

The Quad summit joint statement states that the member states will strive to ensure that the Indo-Pacific region is "free, open, inclusive, healthy" and that they "commit to work together and with a range of partners." The "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" concept as a strategy toward China and the Quad as a coalition toward China have something that makes regional states which are vulnerable to China's pressure vigilant and cautious about those concepts, even if the advocate countries emphasize their inclusiveness or come up with a broad global agenda. Even if the advocate countries reiterate "support for... the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific," it may be hard to expect active engagement from ASEAN for the time being, as long as the ASEAN Outlook is a "roundabout refusal to join the China containment." 54 German ambassador to ASEAN Peter Schoof says that Germany's "policy guidelines for the Indo-Pacific region" take a "cooperative approach toward China." He also recognizes that the "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" concept of Japan and other countries follows a cooperative approach as do the German guidelines. 55 Given the ambassador's recognition, it will not be easy for the Quad to cooperate with Germany.

From the above, the Quad Plus would be beneficial for the future security of the international community, especially in the Indo-Pacific region; it would become a reality depending on the choice of projects and partners. However, it may be premature to aim at the Quad Plus at the current stage. Rather, we should now take steady steps for the institutionalization and strengthening of the Quad.

5. Conclusion

Global Times reportedly carried an expert's comment on the Quad summit that the coalition among the four countries is nothing more than an "empty talk club." 56 It is essential to enhance and strengthen the Quad so that it does not degenerate into an "empty talk club."

To this end, allow me to point out the following two points that Japan should address.

First, the Japanese government should work to strengthen the Quad. In particular, it should deepen specific security measures; not only symbolically conduct a naval exercise like Malabar 2020 but also proactively propose activities that will contribute more effectively to regional security.

Second, Japan should take the initiative in establishing an alignment between the Quad and ASEAN countries. In 2020, Yoshihide Suga chose Southeast Asia for his first foreign trip after becoming prime minister. He visited Vietnam, then the chaircountry of ASEAN, and Indonesia, a leading ASEAN power. He said in his speech at the Vietnam-Japan University in Hanoi, "The fact that it (the ‘ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific') shares many fundamental commonalities with the ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific' Japan is advocating for is tremendously encouraging for me. I strongly support the AOIP. I firmly believe that we can create a peaceful and prosperous future along with ASEAN with these fundamental values in common." 57 Even if there will be no immediate progress of the ASEAN-Quad partnership, Japan should take the initiative to create synergies between the "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" and the "ASEAN Outlook," thereby helping foster more hope for the ASEAN-Quad partnership.

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