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It has been widely projected that the 21st century would be Asian. There are many reasons given, including Asian politics. The characterization of an Asian 21st century is parallel to that of the 19e century as the century of Imperial Britain, and the 20e century like the American century.

In the shadow of this projection comes the birth of AUKUS – a new strengthened trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Announced on September 15, the partnership is one in which the transfer of critical nuclear technology will take place, starting with the delivery of a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines to Australia.

While AUKUS is committed to being a security alliance serving the Indo-Pacific, of which Asia remains the core, it is surprising that no Asian country is a partner in this latest security network. .

It’s a safety net that allegedly was designed to put down a revisionist Asian giant – China. Yet an Indo-Pacific security alliance without any Asian nation or partner organization as a founding member seems unfathomable. In addition, the White House clarified that “no other country” – including India or Japan – can be part of the AUKUS agreement.

Whether or not UKUS will succeed in strengthening the network of partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region remains to be seen. However, what his statement surely managed to do is question the relevance, meaning and future of the Quad.

Quad leaders at the September 24, 2021 summit in Washington, DC.

The future of the quad

Does Asia see the crystallization of a classification of traditional and non-traditional security issues, marked by a cleavage between AUKUS and the Quad?

The Quad, comprising India, the United States, Japan and Australia, has been touted as the cornerstone of Indo-Pacific security and stability in strict traditional terminology – until for AUKUS to happen. Will the Quad now find itself relegated to dealing primarily with non-traditional agendas, such as global health and climate change?

In fact, this trend was noticeable during the Quad leaders summit on September 24, where US President Joe Biden welcomed Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to the White House for the first-ever Quad Leaders Summit in person.

The leaders presented a series of initiatives, which placed emphasis and attention on non-traditional security issues, namely:

  • COVID and global health
  • Helping to immunize the world and save lives
  • Building better health security
  • Infrastructure
  • Weather
  • Green delivery network
  • Clean-Hydrogen Partnership
  • Climate adaptation, resilience and preparedness
  • People exchanges and education
  • Launch the Quad scholarship
  • Initiatives on critical and emerging technologies to foster an open, accessible and secure technological ecosystem

Finally, a long-standing collaboration between the four partner countries on cybersecurity and space was also identified for further cooperation by Quad leaders.

China’s belligerent strategy in Asia over the past decades has focused on hardcore realpolitik and militarization, and its “noisy rise” will continue to clash with America’s position in the Indo-Pacific. Nonetheless, as the growing material imbalance between Beijing and the rest of the region widens, China’s assertive position in Asia will also continue to strengthen, resulting in a blatant power struggle.

Chinese PLA nuclear submarines

Embolden China

This reality underscores the susceptibility of America’s Asian partners on many other key borders. The preeminent power of the last century, the United States, stands at the strategic crossroads in direct conflict with China in four key hot spots: the South China Sea, the East China Sea, the Taiwan Strait and the Korean Peninsula. In addition, Washington has apparent constraints on engagement in all.

In his 2011 book About China (Penguin Press, 2011), Henry Kissinger quotes a 1907 analysis by Eyre Crowe. As a senior official in the British Foreign Office, Crowe raised a crucial question, which has acute relevance today: whether the crisis that led to World War I was caused by the rise of Germany, evoking a kind of organic resistance to the emergence of a new and powerful force, or whether it has already been caused by specific and therefore avoidable German policies, leaving no room for diplomacy.

Joe Biden, who has been rather inaccurate in his assessment of China throughout his political career, appears to have accentuated the security chaos in Asia, particularly in the context of the rambling US exit from Afghanistan. In terms of realpolitik, the US lead in Asia is not clearly established, giving impetus to the debate surrounding Washington’s relative decline on the world political stage.

Without any tangible setbacks and backed by action, be it an AUKUS or a Quad, the 21st primary in the United Statesst challenger of the century, China, will only become more emboldened.

The myriad security challenges that are rapidly causing chaos in Asia, from Afghanistan to the South China Sea, the East China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, are poised to become a watershed moment in history where nations Democratic Asians and their respective partnerships judge the United States on its security guarantees and assurances.

Amid the rumbles of a crisis of American credibility vis-à-vis its alliance commitments to its allies and partners across Asia, it is time to quell any apprehension of abandonment. What is important for every Asian nation is to ensure that democratic nations and voices ultimately prevail in Asia and beyond. This, too, is in America’s interest.


Author: Dr Monika Chansoria

Dr Monika Chansoria is a senior researcher at the Japanese Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo. The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the JIIA or any other organization with which the author is affiliated. She tweet @MonikaChansoria. Find more articles from Dr Chansoria here to JAPAN Before.

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