Explainer: Is the 4-nation Quad an 'Asian NATO'?

Explainer: Is the 4-nation Quad an 'Asian NATO'?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Reuters

Tokyo, May 24

Leaders of the US, Japan, Australia and India gathered in Tokyo on Tuesday for a summit of the “Quad.” What is the group, where did it come from and why do diplomats keep coming up with strange names for various partnerships?

What is the Quad?

Formally the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, the Quad began as a loose partnership after the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, when the four countries joined together to provide humanitarian and disaster assistance to the affected region. It was formalized by former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007, but then fell dormant for nearly a decade, particularly amid Australian concerns that its participation in the group would irritate China.

The group was resurrected in 2017, reflecting changing attitudes in the region toward China's growing influence. Both the Trump and Biden administrations saw the Quad as key to a pivot toward placing more focus on the Indo-Pacific region, particularly as a counterweight to China's assertive actions. The Quad leaders held their first formal summit in 2021 and met again virtually in March.

Is it an “Asian NATO”?

China has complained that the group represents an attempt at forming an “Asian NATO,” though unlike the European alliance there is no mutual-defense pact in effect. Quad members say the group is meant to deepen economic, diplomatic and military ties among the four countries. And while they don't often explicitly say it, those partnerships are meant to be a bulwark against Chinese aggression. In a March 2021 declaration laying out the “Spirit of the Quad,” the leaders said, “We bring diverse perspectives and are united in a shared vision for the free and open Indo-Pacific. We strive for a region that is free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion.”                 

Who are the new faces?

Tuesday's meeting marks the first in-person gathering of the group for Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who took office last October, as well as for Australia's new prime minister, Anthony Albanese. He was sworn-in on Monday, just two days after Australia's parliamentary election and one day before the summit.

Who else is involved?

South Korea has expressed interest in joining the Quad, though U.S. officials have said they are not contemplating adjusting the group's membership. The group has held “Quad-plus” meetings that have included South Korea, New Zealand and Vietnam, which could form the basis for future expansion or partnership in the region.

Why the odd name?

Diplomats can't help themselves. Once they start up different pairings or partnerships, they can't resist assigning shorthand names like the Quad or baffling acronyms like AUKUS (the new Australia-UK-US alliance.) Another acronym that got attention this week while President Joe Biden was in Asia: IPEF, short for the US-proposed new trade pact called the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. AP

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