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Assessing the Quad: prospects and limitations of quadrilateral cooperation for advancing Australia's interests

International security Relations with China International cooperation Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) International relations National security Australia Indo-Pacific Region

After a ten-year hiatus, the Australia-India-Japan-US Security Quadrilateral Dialogue — informally known as the Quad — was resurrected in 2017 with the aim to support a ‘free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific Region’. While there are important differences among the four countries on threat perceptions, military capability, strategic priority, capacity to bear the costs of potential retaliation, strategic culture and constitutional imperatives, these differences place limitations on Quadrilateral cooperation, but do not preclude it. All four countries have common interests in maintaining a stable balance of power in the region, freedom of the seas, an open rules-based economic order, to counter debt-trap diplomacy and to limit the use of coercion by a state to assert territorial claims.

Under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, China has become more assertive and ambitious, vigorously pressing its claims in the East and South China seas and promoting its BRI. Concerned to preserve the existing liberal rules-based order, the Quad states have already responded by increasing their cooperation. Despite the COVID-19 shock and the domestic upheavals and distractions it poses, this cooperation will continue to deepen. While India is an outlier among the four states because of different perceptions of the threat China poses, this does not prevent the four states from cooperating more deeply on standard setting, diplomatic messaging, practical economic measures, and military cooperation, to sustain the liberal rules-based order which has been beneficial to all of them.

Key points:

  • Despite differences in threat perception, risk tolerance, military capability, and strategic culture, cooperation among the Quad countries is likely to deepen as long as China continues to challenge key aspects of the status quo liberal rules-based order that benefit all four.
  • Quad states should take the next step of deepening military cooperation between them to signal an intent to counter and thereby deter future Chinese attempts to further alter the status quo, and develop a credible capacity to do so.
  • Quad states should cooperate to improve joint interoperability, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, share logistics for power projection and enhanced access to and joint development of defence technology. They should also cooperate on standard setting, and create an Indo-Pacific quadrilateral critical infrastructure funding scheme as a viable alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) for small states that could be targeted by China for power projection purposes.
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