What We’ve Learned About ‘The Quad,’ a Renewed Bid to Check China

(Bloomberg) -- The idea of building an Asia-Pacific coalition between Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. -- a group informally known as “the Quad” -- had failed to catch on for so long, many had written it off.

But a low-key meeting on the sidelines of Association of Southeast Asian Nations summits Thursday in Singapore suggested that shared concern about China’s rise was helping the four liberal democracies overcome their differences. Four brief statements issued by the participants Friday offered some clues about the group’s direction:

Regular Meetings

Perhaps the most significant outcome was the commitment to meet again. The group -- holding its third gathering since being revived last year -- said it looked “forward to regular consultations on Indo-Pacific engagement and initiatives” in the future. Still, the statements stopped short of naming a time, place, and format, making it difficult to gauge the level of commitment.

Alternative Model

While China wasn’t mentioned in any of the statements, the language was clearly aimed at Beijing’s illiberal structure, its defiance of a court ruling rejecting its South China Sea claims, and its state-directed infrastructure lending. The group hinted at building an alternative to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road trade and infrastructure initiative.

“They further highlighted the complementary visions for the region held by their four countries, grounded in a shared support for a free, open, and inclusive region that fosters universal respect for international law, freedom of navigation and overflight, and sustainable development,” according to the U.S. side. Japan said the group was committed to fostering “development of quality infrastructure based on international standards, such as openness, transparency, economic efficiency, and debt sustainability.”

Treading Carefully

The statements suggested an effort to assuage concerns the U.S. might use the Quad to supplant other regional bodies, such as Asean. Thus, the group affirmed its support for support for “Asean centrality” and the bloc’s regional architecture, as well as the Indian Ocean Rim Association and the Pacific Islands Forum.

Wooing India

With India as the group’s most reluctant participant, the other three members highlighted the Quad’s utility as a counterbalance to China in South Asia, where Beijing’s growing influence had concerned New Delhi. The U.S. and its regional allies have also adopted the term “Indo-Pacific” to emphasize India’s role.

The Japanese and Australian statements said the four countries had “exchanged views” on recent regional developments “including in Sri Lanka and Maldives.” The U.S. went further, saying officials had “underscored the importance of coordinated and complementary engagement to advance shared regional interests, including support for the new Maldivian government and encouragement of an outcome to political developments in Sri Lanka consistent with democratic principles.”

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