Just what will happen between India, Japan, Australia and the United States at an upcoming summit remains up in the air.

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a diplomatic arrangement between the four nations implemented in 2007, was announced last week and would take place in the U.S. hosted by President Joe Biden.

The summit, which is slated to take place in person on Friday, would focus on Covid-19, climate change, partnerships on technologies and cyberspace, and promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific, according to a White House statement.

Though it is certain that Covid-19 will be central to talks, it was natural it would attract speculation on other issues, namely the members’ relationships with China, according to Srini Sitaraman, a professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Center for Asia Pacific Studies. But “there’s nothing in there that’s sinister,” said Sitaraman.

President Joe Biden welcoming Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to the White House in April 2021.
President Joe Biden welcoming Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to the White House in April 2021. Office of the President of the United States

The security dialogue was instigated in 2007 by Japan’s then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. It was followed by large military exercises between its members and was considered a response to emerging Chinese power in the region.

But many believe its precursor was the unified disaster response to 2004’s tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Since its inception, the Quad has stalled a number of times, due in part to Australia temporarily pulling out due to increased economic relations with China, and restarted again in 2017.

All four nations have tenuous relationships with China. On top of growing tensions over Indo-Pacific influence between the U.S. and China, India has had a long and testy relationship with China due to border disputes in the Himalayan region and concerns over China in the Indian Ocean. Australia also has concerns over apparent historical political meddling by China, while Japan and China continue to have a historically dicey political relationship.

“If you think about the Quad, it’s interesting. They call it the ‘democratic diamond’ or the ‘Asian NATO,’” said Sitaraman, who added that there was only one thing definitely on the agenda. “It’s just a group of four countries getting together and talking about vaccines.”

That said, the announcement of the summit bristled China, which inferred it felt targeted.

“China believes any regional cooperation framework should go with the trend of the times and be conducive,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Linjian said at a press briefing.” It should not target any third party or harm their interests.”

Among the other talking points would be infrastructure, but the exact function of the dialogue remains somewhat uncertain as there was nothing stopping countries from having formal or informal dialogue.

“I don’t know what the end point for Quad is or where they are going with it,” added Sitaraman. “I don’t really know if the countries involved really know.”

Just a day after it was announced that the four countries would meet in Washington D.C., the U.S., Australia and the United Kingdom created waves when they announced they would share nuclear submarine technology to help bolster their naval presence in the Pacific. Not only did it mean Australia breaking a previous deal with France, which led to it withdrawing its ambassadors from Australia and the U.S., but it also left several analysts and commentators in India questioning why it was not involved, given its naval prowess.

The U.S. had assured India AUKUS would have no effect on Quad, according to The Times of India.

“This initiative is about making sure that each of us has the most modern capabilities we need to maneuver and defend against rapidly evolving threats,” Biden said last week, without naming China.

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