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52 The Quad: One More ‘Minilateral’ Initiative, not an Embryonic Military Alliance in the Indo-Pacific Region
The Quad: One More ‘Minilateral’ Initiative,
not an Embryonic Military Alliance in the
Indo-Pacific Region
O Quad: Mais uma Iniciativa “Minilateral”,
não uma Aliança Militar Embrionária na
Região do Indo-Pacífico
DOI: 10.21530/ci.v15n2.2020.1014
João Paulo Nicolini Gabriel
Henoch Gabriel Mandelbaum
Carlos Eduardo Carvalho
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, abbreviated to Quad, comprises Australia, the United
States, Japan, and India. Although many think tanks and media outlets have written
about recommendations to further this initiative, this essay believes the Quad is only
evidence of a rising patchwork of small strategical dialogues within the Indo-Pacific region.
The aims here are twofold: (a) to demonstrate the definitions and relevance of the Quad
amid the soaring rivalry in the Indo-Pacific; and (b) to grasp this initiative as a “minilateral”
grouping, which is settled in a more informal structure than multilateral institutions. In
assessing these hypotheses, this research employs a qualitative content analysis of official
statements and documents about the Quad meeting and national policies toward the
1 Doutorando do Programa de Pós-Graduação em Ciência Política da Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais
(UFMG) e Mestre em Relações Internacionais pelo Programa de Pós-Graduação em Relações Internacionais
“San Tiago Dantas” (UNESP-UNICAMP-PUC-SP). Currículo Lattes:;
ORCID:; email:
2 Mestrando do Programa de Pós-Graduação em Ciência Política da Universidade de São Paulo (USP) e
Bacharel em Relações Internacionais pela Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo (PUC-SP).
Currículo Lattes:; ORCID:;
3 Doutor em Economia pela Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP). Professor da Pontifícia Universidade
Católica de São Paulo (PUC-SP), Departamento de Economia e Programa de Pós-Graduação em Relações
Internacionais “San Tiago Dantas” (UNESP-UNICAMP-PUC-SP). Currículo Lattes:
4531178739960001; ORCID:; email:
Artigo submetido em 06/10/2019 e aprovado em 05/05/2020.
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53João Paulo Nicolini Gabriel; Henoch Gabriel Mandelbaum; Carlos Eduardo Carvalho
Indo-Pacific. A systematic bibliographical review was applied to refine theoretical frameworks
and to triangulate sources. In conclusion, this paper infers the Quad is not as ambitious and
strong as previous literature claimed. These four members developed divergent interests in
the Indo-Pacific; thereby, an alliance against China seems unlikely.
Keywords: Quadrilateral Security Dialogue; Minilateralism; Indo-Pacific.
O Diálogo Quadrilateral de Segurança, abreviado para Quad, é composto pela Austrália,
Estados Unidos, Japão e Índia. Embora muitos think tanks e meios de comunicação tenham
promovido recomendações para essa iniciativa, este artigo acredita que o Quad é apenas
uma evidência de uma crescente rede de pequenos diálogos estratégicos na região Indo-
Pacífico. Os objetivos aqui são duplos: (a) demonstrar as definições e a relevância do Quad
em meio à crescente rivalidade no Indo-Pacífico; e (b) compreender essa iniciativa como um
agrupamento “minilateral”, estabelecido em uma estrutura mais informal que propriamente
instituições multilaterais. Ao avaliar essas hipóteses, esta pesquisa emprega uma análise
qualitativa de conteúdo de declarações e documentos oficiais sobre a reunião da Quad e
políticas nacionais para o Indo-Pacífico. Uma revisão bibliográfica sistemática foi aplicada
para refinar referenciais teóricos e para triangular fontes. Em conclusão, este artigo infere
que o Quad não é tão ambicioso e forte quanto a literatura anterior alegou. Esses quatro
membros desenvolveram interesses divergentes no Indo-Pacífico; assim, uma aliança contra
a China parece improvável.
Palavras-chave: Diálogo Quadrilateral de Segurança; Minilateralismo; Indo-Pacífico.
This essay aims to understand the relevance of the Quadrilateral Security
Dialogue, abbreviated to Quad, to the current power shifts in the Indo-Pacific
region. The Quad is an initiative comprising Australia, India, Japan, and the
United States. It was revived in November 2017 when officials of these four
countries met on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Manila (Miller 2018). Its
first configuration occurred in 2007 and lasted until 2008. Many pundits, think
tanks, and journalists referred to this initiative as a historical movement towards
an embryonic democratic alliance to challenge China’s growing regional influence.
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54 The Quad: One More ‘Minilateral’ Initiative, not an Embryonic Military Alliance in the Indo-Pacific Region
Such a hypothesis for this scenario is based upon two explaining variables:
(1) the soaring rivalry between China and the United States within the Indo-Pacific
region, and (2) the improvement of diplomatic ties among these four democracies.
The quad hence would be an initiative aimed at the coordination of policies in
the Indo-Pacific region, which is becoming the world’s economic and strategic
center of gravity (Cha 2014; Jaishankar 2017).
This paper aims to demonstrate a different hypothesis to assess the relevance of
the Quad within the Indo-Pacific region disputes. The main topics to be addressed
during this essay are: (a) to show that Quad is not a ‘military alliance’ and its
real configurations are less impressive than what some experts and media outlets
propose; (b) to describe the convergences and divergences of the four members
of Quad in their conceptions of Indo-Pacific region and in their policies to deal
with Beijing; finally, (c) to analyze Quad as part of this ‘minilateralist’ network
of groupings and initiatives that historically exists as a diplomatic interaction
within this context; in other words, mechanisms established by small groups of
countries which converge in certain issues and are usually settled in more informal
structures than multilateral institutions (Jaishankar 2018; Wuthnow 2019).
In assessing these hypotheses, this research employs qualitative methods
to collect evidence. Two instruments are applied: (a) a content analysis to find
observable implication inside primary sources; and a (b) systematic literature
review to refine our theoretical framework and hypotheses. Such descriptive
inferences serve to demonstrate how this work fills a gap in the literature.
This action depicted the geopolitical context to be tackled throughout the
paper. Inferences produced by content analysis were triangulated to secondary
sources. The theoretical framework was developed during the systematic review
of literature about the geopolitical disputes within the Indo-Pacific. On Chinese
influence in the Indo-Pacific, secondary sources were used to complement the lack
of a considerable amount of Chinese governmental sources translated to English.
Research papers published in leading peer-reviewed journals were selected to
enhance the confidence in our findings. Likewise, articles from Chinese official-
leaning editorial newspapers were used as proxy evidence.
Documents analyzed referred to the national perspective on the Quad. Two
sorts of documents were evaluated: official statements on Indo-Pacific national
strategies and reports about Quad meetings. The former provides some observable
implications to investigate the latter. How a country engages in the Quad is related
to its national policy towards the Indo-Pacific.
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55João Paulo Nicolini Gabriel; Henoch Gabriel Mandelbaum; Carlos Eduardo Carvalho
The four members issue self-reported documents after the meetings, instead
of doing it together. Therefore, official statements about Quad meetings were
evaluated as primary sources. The idea was identifying how each country:
(a) defines this mechanism; (b) ultimate aims; (c) perspectives about furthering
the ongoing agenda; and (e) any mention about China to check whether Beijing
is considered a rival that sparked the creation of Quad. The period analyzed starts
from its revival in 2017.
The motivations that sparked this investigation of the Quad was the observation
that this dialogue has a more vivid life inside the media or think tanks summits
than the actual achievements of governments. Three groups are considered
responsible for this scenario: (a) the alarmist Chinese media led by theGlobal
Times, a newspaper with a pro-government editorial stance; (b) the ‘hawkish’
scholars and media outlets which depict the Quad as an embryonic ‘Asian NATO’
seeking to set a comprehensive agenda against growing leverage of Beijing in the
Indo-Pacific under the rule of Xi Jinping; and (c) think tanks releasing reports or
organizing summits envisaging possibilities to the Quad instead of describing its
actual configurations.
Among these groups, the Chinese media outlets are the wariest. The idea of
the rise of an alliance against Beijing gained momentum with the Quad; thereby,
this initiative is overrated when embedded in a dispute between the United States
and China. One can read in these newspapers the Quad described as: an initiative
‘doomed to fail’ or ‘aimed to target China,’ ‘a cornerstone of Washington’s Asia
strategy to counterbalance China,’ ‘united front to contain China’ and ‘a threat to
ASEAN unity because it could undermine the roles of this organization in regional
cooperation’ (Godement 2018; Liu 2018; Long 2018; Zhao 2019). Likewise, the
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi demonstrated irritation with the Quad calling
it “an idea that would dissipate like the seafoam” (Rai 2017).
There are also the ‘hawkish’ scholars, such as Chellaney (2017), who
endorses the settlement of a strategic constellation of democracies to contain the
challenges that threaten to disrupt stability and impede economic growth in the
Indo-Pacific. Such analysts believe that the Quad is a relevant mechanism in a
supposedly future dispute between the U.S.-led liberal international order against
the authoritarian alternative delivered by China. Unjhawala (2018) wrote that the
initiative could make great headway toward containing Beijing’s international
projects. These interpretations conclude that geopolitical and security factors
or even converging political regimes can lure these four countries into the idea
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56 The Quad: One More ‘Minilateral’ Initiative, not an Embryonic Military Alliance in the Indo-Pacific Region
of grouping against China regardless of the explanatory variable of divergences
among national interests and capabilities (Ayres 2019; Rai 2017). Furthermore,
during both the 2018 Halifax International Security Forum and the 2019 Raisina
Dialogue, panels gathered army officials due to think tanks invitations. Strategic
pundits and media outlets reported them as governmental initiatives towards the
formalization of a grouping to contain Beijing, although those events were not
official initiatives.
These definitions of the Quad need to be confronted due to an ongoing
overstretching of this concept. The Quad as a dialogue began to be grasped as
the whole network of bilateral and trilateral initiatives involving India, Japan, the
United States, and Australia (Jaishankar 2018). Without a clear agenda about its
purposes, many aspects were entitled as part of the aims of the Quad. This essay
advocates that journalists or pundits who endorsed this common perspective about
this subject incur in the imprecision of their research design due to an omitted
variable problem. The quad is only another part of the security architecture of
the Indo-Pacific, which historically comprises many “minilateral” initiatives
and where multilateral institutions are deficient in solving regional problems
(Green 2014; Wuthnow 2019). In other words, these interpretations are biased
to overestimate the Quad and make invalid inferences because (a) this initiative
would be considered a unique security-minded dialogue aimed to hedge against
Chinese global activities; (b) likewise, the concept of Indo-Pacific would be based
on a singular strategic meaning (Chacko and Panda 2019; Mishra 2019; Wroe and
Needham 2018; Wuthnow 2019); and (c) this perception also sees this grouping
strongly linked to United States’ ambitions and meaning of the Indo-Pacific region
since Washington’s idea of a growing competition against China could be replicated
in other members (Curran 2018).
The question hence is how much formalized a dialogue could be if it
were assumed that each state holds its own national strategy on international
engagement. This paper refers to “formalized” as the capacity of an organization
to set an agenda, to craft an official charter and bureaucracy, and to be considered
a relevant aspect to its members’ foreign policy. Domestic politics debates on
foreign policy and divergent perspectives are explanatory variables that could not
be dismissed in order to avoid measurement errors when attempting to understand
the Quad, once this initiative has never gone further than an informal dialogue
without an official agenda (Gyngell 2018; Madan 2017).
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57João Paulo Nicolini Gabriel; Henoch Gabriel Mandelbaum; Carlos Eduardo Carvalho
The paper is divided as follows: (1) this introduction; (2) analysis on
the expansion of the Chinese sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific since the
ascension of Xi Jinping to power; (3) description of the real configurations of the
Quad to characterize this grouping as part of a tangle of strategies and initiatives
proposed by these four countries in the Indo-Pacific region; (4) a study stretching
the meaning of the term Indo-Pacific once this concept is crucial to observe
convergences and divergences inside the Quad in order to analyze each state’s
ambitions and perceptions of the geopolitics of this region; and (5) a section with
final considerations.
The Enlargement of the Chinese Sphere of Influence:
An Assertive Beijing
The rise of China’s material capability is impressive. Starting at the country’s
reform and opening policy, under Deng Xiaoping, between 1978 and 2010, the
Chinese economy grew at an average rate of 10 percent per year, when it slipped
to the current 6 to 7 percent annually (Naughton 2020). The country reached the
position of the world’s second-largest economy in 2010 when its gross domestic
product (GDP/PPP) surpassed Japan’s and today’s figures at $25.1 trillion
(Allison 2017; International Monetary Fund 2018).
Since the rise of Xi Jinping to the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party
(CCP) in 2012, the country has exhibited increased confidence and proactiveness
on the world stage. The president has abandoned Deng Xiaoping’s prescription
for passive diplomacy (“bide time, hide brightness do not take the lead”) with his
more activist dictum “striving for achievement”. Xi has also emphasized “China
Dream”, China’s “great rejuvenation”, and a “community of a shared future for
mankind” (Wang 2019; Shambaugh 2020).
Xi has also launched the concept of “major-country diplomacy”, which means
to transform the mission of China’s diplomacy from seeking a peaceful environment
conducive to domestic development to one that puts expanding China’s global
reach as a linchpin to achieve the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation
(Hu 2019; Zhao 2020). In June 2018, Xi underscored these goals during the Central
Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs, when he urged the foreign policy
cadres to pursue “the efforts to firmly safeguard China’s sovereignty, security
and development interests, take an active part in leading the reform of the global
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58 The Quad: One More ‘Minilateral’ Initiative, not an Embryonic Military Alliance in the Indo-Pacific Region
governance system, and build a more complete network of global partnerships”
(Xinhua 2018).
To advance major-country diplomacy, Beijing has searched for a security
strategy that aims to project influence over the Indo-Pacific region through the
employment of its recently acquired economic, political, and military capabilities.
In 2013, Beijing launched the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which aims to link
China to Europe through Central Asia and Russia; to the Middle East through
Central Asia; and to Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the Indian Ocean. Whereas,
the “road” aims to connect China with Europe through the South China Sea and the
Indian Ocean; and with the South Pacific through the South China Sea. It is also a
massive project involving the funding and construction of an infrastructure system
of roads, railways, oil and natural gas pipelines, fiber-optic and communication
systems, ports, and airports. BRI encompasses 65 countries and reaches more than
60% of the global population. Estimations indicate that the project will cost more
than $1 trillion to China and, in the last five years, Beijing has already invested
more than $210 billion in it (Hendler 2019; Kuo and Kommenda 2018; Pautasso,
Leite and Doria 2017; Zhang, Alon and Latteman 2018).
However, some analysts state that this initiative could trigger undesirable
outcomes in vulnerable countries, fostering corruption, and autocratic behavior
in these fragile democracies. The debt trap, occurs when the states are not able
to pay the loans conceded by the Chinese government to arguably consolidate the
ambitious infrastructural projects, would drive them to a dependence on China.
Beijing already holds most of the debt of many nations along the BRI, such as
Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Maldives, Mongolia, Montenegro, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kenya,
and Djibouti (Berlie 2020; Fernholz 2018; Mayer 2018).
China has also been steadily increasing its annual defense spending since 2007,
reaching $170.4 billion in 2018, the equivalent of 1.3 percent of its GDP. The Chinese
government has been focused on the modernization of the 2 million personnel-
strong PLA as a warfighting instrument through the improvement of military
professionalism. Furthermore, China has also been developing new capabilities
that will enhance Beijing’s ability to project power and to deny foreign regional
intervention, namely, unmanned aircraft vehicles, stealth fighter jets, aircraft carriers,
and anti-ship ballistic missiles (Defense Intelligence Agency 2019; Economy 2018).
At the same time, China has sought to assert its presence more forcefully in
its neighborhood, especially the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. Beijing
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59João Paulo Nicolini Gabriel; Henoch Gabriel Mandelbaum; Carlos Eduardo Carvalho
claims sovereignty over most of the area of the South China Sea through its nine-
dash line, which encompasses the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands, and the
Scarborough Shoal. It is a major transport hub through which the goods to and
from Northeast Asia are shipped, and the area contains reserves of crude oil and
gas. The zone is disputed by Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines,
and Taiwan. Since 2014, Beijing has been engaged in massive reclamation projects
and the construction of artificial islands in at least seven locations in the Spratly
Islands and at least three locations in the Paracel Islands (Hendler 2019; Pautasso,
Leite and Doria 2017; Turcsányi 2018).
In the documentChina’s National Defense in the New Era(The State Council
Information Office of The People’s Republic of China 2019), the Chinese government
stresses that “the South China Sea islands (…) are inalienable parts of the Chinese
territory” (p. 7). It also remembers that “China exercises its national sovereignty to
build infrastructure and deploy necessary defensive capabilities on the islands and
reefs in the South China Sea” (p. 7). The Chinese stance is due to the increasing
pressure exerted by the foreign military presence in the region, such as the Quad
members, the United Kingdom, and France. Zhang (2019) observes that when it
comes to resolving territorial disputes in the South China Sea, Beijing has cautiously
approached the use of coercion in the region. The author notes that China relies
on military coercion less often the stronger it becomes, preferring to employ
unconventional tools such as coercive threats and “gray-zone coercion”. Gray-zone
coercion involves physical violence; however, it uses much smaller capabilities
than the military coercion. A recent example happened in 2014 when Beijing
used maritime law enforcement vessels to ram Vietnamese vessels in response
to Vietnam’s opposition to Chinese oil rigs operating in the Paracel Islands. Both
countries claim sovereignty over the Paracels. Nevertheless, China has occupied
the islands since 1974, where it has built military garrisons (housing 1,400 PLA
officials), an airfield, and an artificial harbor (Lendon 2019; Zhang 2019).
At the same time, the expansion of the Chinese economic and military clout
in the Indo-Pacific creates a deep connection in the security arena between East
and South Asia. It also has the goal to secure Chinese sea lines of communication
(SLOCs) and displace the US Navy as the predominant navy in the Indian Ocean
(Brewster 2019).
The United States is seeking a way to counteract the Chinese assertiveness
since the Barack Obama administration (2009-2017). In November 2011, Obama
promised to increase U.S. American diplomatic, economic and military presence
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60 The Quad: One More ‘Minilateral’ Initiative, not an Embryonic Military Alliance in the Indo-Pacific Region
in the Asia-Pacific and signaled the U.S. determination to counter the impact of
China’s rise in the region (Allison 2017). The United States declared that it was not
directed to any one country (“China”) and identified the five broad and interrelated
components of the rebalance: 1) Strengthening and modernizing security alliances;
2) Forging deeper relationships with emerging powers; 3) Engaging more deeply
in regional and global institutions to advance regional cooperation, peaceful
resolution of disputes, and adherence to human rights and international law;
4) Pursuing a stable and constructive relationship with China; and 5) Advancing
the region’s economic architecture, such as Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) (Mccormick 2016).
After his inauguration in 2017, President Donald Trump officially terminated
the engagement policy toward China and opted for competitive policies. The
2018 National Defense Strategy indicated that China would “continue to pursue a
military modernization program that seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the
near term and displacement of the United States to achieve global pre-eminence
in the future” (Department Of Defense 2018, 2). Therefore, the United States
has sought to increase its military presence in Asia. Between 2017 and 2019,
Washington carried out “freedom of navigation operations” (FONOPS) 15 times
in the South China Sea (Wu 2019).
On its turn, India fears encroachment on its zone of strategic interest as well as
encirclement from Chinese projects in Pakistan. Japan is wary of China’s ability to
influence the energy supply chains on which East Asia depends and the possibility
of the country to use BRI to further push its People’s Liberation Army into the
Indian and Pacific Ocean regions, a move that could destabilize regional security.
Australia is concerned that China’s project aid could render fragile states more
vulnerable to coercion. These shared concerns on the expansion of the Chinese
political and military clout were fundamental to the revival of the Quad by the
four countries (Gale and Shearer 2018; Herskovitz 2019; Medcalf 2018; Pautasso,
Leite and Doria 2017).
Since the rise of Xi Jinping to power, the authorities have systematically
silenced human rights lawyers and all manner of peaceful criticism of the
government. Many have been forcibly disappeared or arbitrarily detained. Beyond
that, the state-controlled media have steadily discredited their work, trying to
deter future generations of whistle-blowers and others who seek to challenge
state authorities (Roth 2020).
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61João Paulo Nicolini Gabriel; Henoch Gabriel Mandelbaum; Carlos Eduardo Carvalho
There is a growing concern about what China’s domestic crackdown means
for international security and the U.S.-led liberal international order. One of the
main analysts of China’s rise, Yan Xuetong (2019), says that the Chinese leadership
should recover the thought of philosophers from China’s pre-Qin era (prior to 221
B.C.) who argued that a country should be loved rather than to be feared by other
states. The author advocates that China should seek respect from its international
counterparts through “humane authority”, a crucial component of global power,
along with economic and military strength. For Yan (2019), “humane authority
requires consistency between a leading state’s domestic ideology and the political
values it pursues abroad” (p. 53). Thus, the author contends that the international
community is put off by China’s domestic rule and its assertive foreign policy,
which significantly damages its legitimacy abroad and capacity to lead. Yan warns
that Chinese officials should abandon their repressive practices at home if they
want to “lead by example” in the international arena (Nyrén 2019; Yan 2019).
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and the Indo-Pacific regional
architecture of security dialogues
First and foremost, it is essential to usher to what this initiative is not.
In 2017, the Quad returned as a topic inside official circles. At the same time,
‘Indo-Pacific’ also became a recurring strategic terminology amid the soaring
geopolitical tensions and concerns about China’s actions along the Indo-Pacific
(Choong 2019; Madan 2017). This scenario reinvigorated the argument that Quad
is an initiative with an offensive agenda towards Beijing, and its activities would
be related to the military potential of these four states to demonstrate interests
in regional maritime security issues (Ayres 2019; Grossman 2018). However, the
Quad is still not a formal military alliance or even an emulation of the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) due to the five following aspects:
(a) It is a group without a legally binding treaty; therefore, members are not
officially committed to the principle of mutual defense (Kuo 2018). (b) The Quad
does not have an official schedule or a formal agenda (Madan 2017). (c) The
meetings are not even formalized at a ministerial level (Tweed, Koutsoukis and
Scott 2018). (d) The name Quadrilateral Security Dialogue is not institutionalized.
Leaders and bureaucracies from the four countries do not refer to this initiative in
a singular fashion. For example, the last National Security Strategy of the United
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62 The Quad: One More ‘Minilateral’ Initiative, not an Embryonic Military Alliance in the Indo-Pacific Region
States of America demonstrates the existence of a ‘quadrilateral cooperation’
(White House 2017). Furthermore, Australian and Indian governmental authorities
refused to use ‘quadrilateral security dialogue’ to officially name this diplomatic
mechanism (Ministry of External Affairs 2019b; Parliament of Australia 2007).
Actually, the name Quadrilateral Security Dialogue was coined and widespread
by scholars and journalists who envisaged the allocation of India to the already
existing Trilateral Strategic Dialogue (TSD) between Australia, Japan, and the
United States (Lu 2018; Sharma 2010). (e) Likewise, references to this grouping
are more often found in academic journals and newspapers rather than in official
documents (Curran 2018).
In reference to the last topic, comparing the four statements about those
diplomatic meetings is an excellent exercise to notice divergences among these
countries (Panda 2018). India, which some scholars and media outlets consider the
weakest link of the Quad, prefers a milder reference to the need to ensure respect
towards international law than its partners. In the last three statements, New Delhi
advocated for an inclusive Indo-Pacific (Panda 2018; Ministry of External Affairs
2018a; 2018b; 2019a). On the other hand, Indian statements have similarities with
other countries in terms of concerns with terrorism and the necessity to increase
regional connectivity based on transparency and territorial integrity (Ministry
Of External Affairs 2018b). The United States, Australia, and Japan have already
emphasized democratic values as a pillar of this initiative (Department of Foreign
Affairs and Trade 2018b; Department of State 2017a; 2018b; Ministry of Foreign
Affairs 2017a; 2018b).
The word ‘quadrilateral’ appeared only in Canberra’s and Washington’s
statements — an aspect that demonstrates a sort of blockage to classify this
dialogue, such as a group initiative (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
2017; Department of State 2017a; Panda 2018). The initial ‘Quad’ was only used
in a document from Washington (Department of State 2019). The United States
and Australia were also the only countries to recognize the discussion of political
issues involving the Maldives and Sri Lanka — India, notoriously considered as
the highest interesting part, averted mentioning it to avoid challenging Beijing (De
Silva 2019; Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade 2018b; Department of State
2018e; Malik 2018; Ministry of External Affairs 2018b). Furthermore, in 2019, all
the statements depicted the ASEAN-led mechanisms as initiatives to be supported
to reaffirm the intention to preserve the peace and freedom within the Indo-Pacific
region (Department of State 2019; Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade 2019;
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63João Paulo Nicolini Gabriel; Henoch Gabriel Mandelbaum; Carlos Eduardo Carvalho
Ministry of External Affairs 2019a; Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2018a). Canberra
and Washington also reported their support to The Pacific Islands Forum and the
Indian Ocean Rim Association in a moment that Beijing attempts to increase its
influence through the Pacific — a region with many states that still recognize
Taiwan diplomatically.
Likewise, it is worth mentioning that the Quad is a grouping comprising: a
superpower (the United States), a rising power (India), a traditional middle-power
(Australia), and a military-constrained economic leading-power (Japan). Therefore,
regarding the Quad, an instrument to Washington is an equivocated perspective
because, despite being the most powerful country in the group, it is not possible to
affirm that they agree on controversial topics such as dealing with Chinese growing
regional leverage or regional interests (Ayres 2019; Rai 2017). Inserting Quad into
disputes between Washington and Beijing is not only a misinterpretation of Indian,
Japanese and Australian perspectives over the issues, but it also overestimates the
current capabilities of this initiative by setting an agenda that the officials have
not done yet (Curran 2018; Madan 2017; Mishra 2019).
Those misconceptions about the Quad buried the first attempts to formalize
this grouping from 2007 to 2008 (Madan 2017). Beginning as an initiative called
Tsunami Core Group, it aimed temporarily to coordinate operations of humanitarian
relief for vulnerable people and villages affected by the tsunami that occurred in
2004. Many observers believed the maintenance of this arrangement would mean
a concert of democracies to balance against China (Jaishankar 2018; Madan 2017;
Medcalf 2008; Rai 2017). This vision was considered too provocative by leaders
and diplomats, mainly from Australia and India. Beijing was promptly assured that
they were not establishing a security alliance after Chinese officials demonstrated
concerns over the endorsement by the Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and
the then-U.S. vice president Richard B. Cheney to the solidification of this dialogue
and on the fact that, in 2007, these four countries joined the naval drills called
Malabar exercises that Washington and New Delhi organize annually (Madan
2017; Medcalf 2008; Pattanaik 2016; Rudd 2019). Likewise, this situation hampered
the formation of domestic political consensus about the Quad so that Yasuo
Fukuda, Shinzo Abe’s successor after his resignation in 2007, and Kevin Rudd,
who assumed in 2007 the role of the prime minister of Australia, did not show
the same enthusiasm for this mechanism (Rai 2017; Rudd 2019; Wuthnow 2019).
Once overlapped those issues, it is important to demonstrate what Quad
really is. The best description of the Quad is an association of Australia, India,
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64 The Quad: One More ‘Minilateral’ Initiative, not an Embryonic Military Alliance in the Indo-Pacific Region
Japan, and the United States aimed to facilitate their conversation and diplomatic
cooperation. (Ayres 2019; Madan 2017). According to the United States Department
of the State (Department of State, 2017a), these four partners gather together
because they are “committed to deepen cooperation, which rests on a foundation
of shared democratic values and principles, and to continue discussions to further
strengthen the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region”. However, countries
develop different interests and approaches to the Quad once this initiative does
not define clear guidelines; hence these four partners only underscore, in each
statement, aspects of their interests following foreign policy strategies (Hardy
2019; Panda 2018).
As a matter of fact, this diplomatic arrangement has never gone further than a
“less-than-alliance formation” in which these four countries cautiously watch the
rise of China’s international political and economic clout and to the consequent
redefinition in the global balance of power. However, they were not able to set a
unique and sophisticated agenda towards the Indo-Pacific region in this initiative
due to constraints imposed by domestic politics issues (Ayres 2019; Jaishankar
2017; O’Neil and West 2019). Furthermore, military meetings among members
of the Quad happened only within think tanks summits — official quadrilateral
dialogues related to diplomatic instances. Therefore, “suggest that the Quad is an
alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, or a mechanism aimed at containing
China, or to conflate it with understandings of the Indo-Pacific construct assigns
far too much strategic gravitas to the grouping at this stage” (Byrne 2019, 18).
A goal achieved by this initiative is demonstrating to Beijing that these four
states are able to group up in small forums to discuss geopolitical issues (Curran
2018). The Quad is not as relevant as some media outlets proposed as an institution.
Still, it is a good example to observe the maintenance of “minilateralism” as a
way of strategic engagement in the Indo-Pacific region. Thus, the best way to
grasp its real significance is to examine the Quad as part of a matrix of initiatives
comprising these four countries (Jaishankar 2018). Although this mechanism does
not have an official agenda, its members have developed trilateral and bilateral
strategic dialogues aimed to improve their ties in many instances, such as military
cooperation, infrastructure projects, and intelligence-sharing (Wuthnow 2019).
Descriptive analyses confirm the historical existence of “minilateralism” in Asia
and Oceania once Washington has preferred to engage with its regional partners
through a “hub-and-spoke” system since the Cold War (Cha 2014; Hemmer and
Katzenstein 2002; Wuthnow 2019). It is not the case here to explore the reasons
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65João Paulo Nicolini Gabriel; Henoch Gabriel Mandelbaum; Carlos Eduardo Carvalho
for this evidence. Still, it is an important implication to view the Quad as part
of this framework of small initiatives serving strategic ends usually do not move
forward in terms of formalization (Hemmer and Katzenstein 2002).
For example, the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), established
in 1954 and formally disbanded in 1977, was the eastern initiative endorsed by
the United States that advanced the most in terms of formalization since it was
headquartered in Bangkok and hosted military exercises. However, it had very
few formal functions, and the official charter did not prescribe sophisticated
mechanisms of mutual protection or the constitution of a common military force
(Department of State 2017b). This aspect provides a relevant systematic feature
of historical Washington’s preference to coordinate its policy towards the Indo-
Pacific through a bilateral or trilateral mechanism, rather than a multilateral
institution, and the continuous idea about establishing a NATO-style organization
in Asia and Oceania (Hemmer and Katzenstein, 2002; Cha 2014). It is important
to underscore that among the reasons that dismantled those organizations was
the fact that some states disagreed with the United States’ actions in Vietnam
and Cambodia. Domestic politics strategies and perceptions played a crucial role
in the development of the SEATO (Department of State, 2017b).
The consolidation of this entangled framework of small-scale activities within
the Indo-Pacific region is not only sparked by the United States’ efforts, but also
China and other countries have developed instruments according to their individual
need to carve out new diplomatic and security ties without spending excessive capital
and time to structure a multilateral organization (Medcalf 2015; Wuthnow 2019).
Thus, over the past 20 years, it is possible to infer that “minilateralism” was
consolidated as a diplomatic trend within this context once it facilitates dialogues
among selected partners. Even so, this aspect does not necessarily incentive the
institutionalization of these small forums, preventing countries from setting legally
binding activities upon all partners, an instance that could constrain their own
strategies (Wuthnow 2019).
Australia, India, Japan, and the United States join different “minilateral”
forums that can compete against Beijing in specific issues. This paper underscores
a bunch of initiatives into this context. However, bearing in mind that national
programs are working concomitantly in the same areas such as the South Asia
Regional Infrastructure Connectivity initiative (SARIC) in Australia, the Expanded
Partnership for Quality Infrastructure in Japan or the Asia Reassurance Initiative
Act in the United States (Choong 2019). The aim here is to prioritize instruments
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66 The Quad: One More ‘Minilateral’ Initiative, not an Embryonic Military Alliance in the Indo-Pacific Region
comprising more than one member of the Quad and only these four states,
although they also group with other regional countries such as the United States-
Japan–South Korea Trilateral Ministerial Meeting or the Indonesia-Australia-India
Senior Officials’ Strategic Dialogue (Wuthnow 2019). Moreover, these mechanisms
present different degrees of consolidation and ambitions.
Here is a list showing how many initiatives are in vogue amid the Indo-Pacific
region geopolitical dynamics:
1. Connectivity and infrastructure: Trilateral Partnership for infrastructure
investment in the Indo-Pacific (Australia, Japan, and the United States),
Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (India and Japan), and Trilateral Infrastructure
Working Group (India, Japan, and the United States) (Department of State
2018c; Ministry of External Affairs 2018e; White House 2018a).
2. Multiple issues: India-Australia-Japan Trilateral Dialogue, the United States-
Japan-Australia Trilateral Strategic Dialogue, and United States-Japan-India
Trilateral Meeting (Department of State 2018a; Ministry of External Affairs
2017a; Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2018c).
3. Intelligence-sharing: Trilateral Information Sharing Arrangement (Australia-
Japan-United States) (Wuthnow 2019).
Defining Indo-Pacific region: one question, many answers
The Quad is strongly linked to the concept of Indo-Pacific once all the four
members defined that this grouping aims to act in this region. Indeed, Australia,
India, Japan, and the United States used the last four meetings to assure their
commitment to the preservation of regional freedom and the enhancement of
regional security. Likewise, the four countries mean to assure the maintenance of
a rule-based Indo-Pacific to focus on mechanisms to develop regional connectivity
and economy and to combat the terrorism, cyber-crimes and piracy (Department of
Foreign Affairs and Trade 2018a; 2019; Department of State 2018d; 2019; Ministry
of External Affairs 2018a; 2019a; Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2017b; 2017c).
Each of these four members emphasized the importance of deepening
diplomatic dialogues and strategies in order to preserve mutual interests in the Indo-
Pacific region (Abe, 2012; Australian Government, 2017, P. 40; Ministry of External
Affairs, 2018d; White House, 2017). However, as Bisley (2018), Jaishankar (2018),
and Mishra (2019) noticed, a common analytic mistake happens when observers
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67João Paulo Nicolini Gabriel; Henoch Gabriel Mandelbaum; Carlos Eduardo Carvalho
assume the Quad as a formal initiative setting an agenda related to security issues
involving the Indo-Pacific and aggregating shared interests by four supposedly
like-minded democracies. In other words, due to geopolitics, the Quad emerges
as an important diplomatic initiative seeking to compete with Beijing in many
aspects: from investments in infrastructure and the construction of facilities along
the Indo-Pacific region to military issues (Huang 2018; Madan 2017; Pant 2017).
In the geopolitical realm, the earliest academic statement on the Indo-Pacific
dates back to the work of Karl Haushofer in 1920 (Indopazifischer Raum). Since then,
“Indo-Pacific” was often used in oral discourse, especially in Australia, which was
premised mainly on Canberra’s two-ocean geostrategic imperatives. Nevertheless,
until the beginning of the XXI century, the usage of the term was mainly confined to
Biology essays. Only recently, the term Indo-Pacific was embraced by international
politics studies because this macro-region, in geographical terms, comprehends
an area that covers from eastern Africa to western shores of America (Khurana
2019; Pan 2014).
Indo-Pacific has emerged as a strategic terminology in a moment when countries
are rearranging their policies and agendas to promptly react to possible consequences
sparked by the ongoing increase of security, economic, and diplomatic connections
throughout the Pacific and Indian oceans (Medcalf 2018; Phillips 2016).
Its relevance to the global order is manifold. In economic terms: (a) Indian
Ocean carries two-thirds of global oil shipments and a third of bulk cargo (Medcalf
2018); (b) 50% of the world’s commercial influx goes through the Indo-Pacific
along the sea routes (Department of State, 2018b); (c) the three world’s largest
gross domestic product are: the United States, China and Japan (World Bank 2019).
In demographic terms: (d) the five world’s most populous countries (China,
India, the United States, Indonesia, and Pakistan) are located there (United States
Census Bureau 2019); (e) by 2030, more than 60% of the world’s middle class will
reside throughout the Indo-Pacific (Davidson 2018). In military terms: (f) among
the biggest fifteen military spenders, in 2017, nine are part of the Indo-Pacific
region (the United States, China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, India, Japan, South Korea,
Australia, and Canada) (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute 2018).
In other words, regional dynamics and rivalries in the Indo-Pacific can potentially
trigger consequences worldwide because it “represents the most populous and
economically dynamic part of the world” (White House 2017, 46).
All members of the Quad officially adopted the term Indo-Pacific envisaging
to address properly the challenges sparked by changes in this region in which
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68 The Quad: One More ‘Minilateral’ Initiative, not an Embryonic Military Alliance in the Indo-Pacific Region
adequate military strategies and economic and commercial policies are required
to protect national interests (Brewster 2018). For Canberra, this macro-region is
of primary importance because it encompasses their leading economic partners
and the soaring competition among states could hinder Australian international
engagement since these disputes between great powers in the region will determine
the future of the global order (Australian Government 2017; Department of Foreign
Affairs and Trade, 2018c). New Delhi claims “the destiny of the world will be deeply
influenced by the course of developments in the Indo-Pacific region” (Ministry
of External Affairs 2018d). Japanese diplomacy believes world peace relies on an
Indo-Pacific that values freedom, the rule of law, and free from coercion (Ministry
of Foreign Affairs, 2017b). Likewise, Washington’s foreign policy has officially
considered Beijing as a “revisionist power” which supposedly attempts to coerce
neighboring countries and reorder this region to their advantage, besides displacing
the United States (Department of Defense 2018; White House 2017).
Nevertheless, do the Quad members understand the boundaries of Indo-Pacific
similarly to the geographic definition? Not exactly. A region is a volatile idea based
more specifically on political interests rather than in geographical definitions
(Hemmere Katzenstein 2002; Pan 2014; Pekkanen, Ravenhill and Foot 2014). Indeed,
it is a strategic construction based on the interpretation of policymakers following
objectives and their ideas over national capabilities in terms of pursuing a political
project or a security agenda in the international arena (Bergin 2018; Le Thu 2018;
Phillips 2016). There are systematic patterns historically observed corroborating
this assumption, such as the idea of a macro-region called North Atlantic once
the United States intended to assure its influence over Western Europe (Hemmer
and Katzenstein 2002). Therefore, the Indo-Pacific is an imaginary terminology
that varies according to one country’s foreign policy; that means there is no such
a thing as a universal definition for this region because the meanings and borders
are interpreted to fit into a national strategy (Bergin 2018; Gyngell 2018; Hardy
2019; Varghese 2018).
For India, the Indo-Pacific is a region stretching from the African shores to
America (Ministry of External Affairs 2018d). Australia defines it as an area “ranging
from the eastern Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean connected by Southeast Asia,
including India, North Asia, and the United States” (Australian Government 2017, 1).
Japan presents an interesting perspective because it urges the United States to
remain involved in the Indo-Pacific region. However, it officially emphasizes the
idea of an area connecting Asia to Africa (Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2017c).
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69João Paulo Nicolini Gabriel; Henoch Gabriel Mandelbaum; Carlos Eduardo Carvalho
Finally, for the United States, the Indo-Pacific region “stretches from the west coast
of India to the western shores of the United States” (White House 2017, 45-46).
India and Japan have developed commercial and strategic relations with African
countries, and their definitions of Indo-Pacific include Africa (Brewster 2018;
Gabriel and Carvalho 2018). Furthermore, New Delhi considers its “Act East Policy”
crucial to Indian engagement to the Indo-Pacific (Hardy 2019; Ministry of External
Affairs 2017c). Canberra adopted a more restrictive terminology to emphasize a
region cored in Australia, demonstrating the primary interest of defending regional
influence and seizing new commercial opportunities due to the consolidation of
Western Australia as an economic center and diplomatic possibilities with countries
such as India (Australian Government 2017; Tyler and Bhutoria 2015; Varghese 2018).
For Washington, this concept reveals a strategy to manage China’s growing
influence through the establishment of regional partnership and encouraging
India, Japan, and Australia to take on a proactive diplomatic role alongside the
United States (Bisley and Phillips 2013; Department Of State 2018b; Scott 2018;
U.S. Congress 2018).
Managing issues sparked by the rise of China is considered critical for
Australia, India, Japan, and the United States in the Indo-Pacific region once
this country has become an important player in terms of international politics
and economy (De Silva 2019; Medcalf 2018; Pattanaik 2016; White 2013). In this
respect, many scholars and officials observe such issues as an aspect able to alter
the post-Cold War liberal order maintained by Washington and organizations such
as the United Nations (Pant and Joshi 2016). Chinese presence and influence in
global affairs are not unusually portrayed as a hindrance to the maintenance of
international laws and organizations. For some scholars and leaders, Beijing has
attempted to carve out a better position in certain instances through the creation
or endorsement of commercial, financial or political institutions and initiatives
such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the Asian Infrastructure Bank (AIIB),
the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation
mechanism, the BRICS, the New Development Bank, China Union Pay, and the
Universal Credit Rating Group (Stuenkel 2016; Wuthnow 2019).
Each of these four countries has its reasons to be apprehensive about this
context: (a) India and Japan maintain historical quarrels, such as disputes for
territories, with Beijing (Gabriel and Carvalho 2018; Pant and Joshi 2016). (b) All
the members of the Quad are somehow wary about the establishment of the BRI
because it could strengthen China’s position not only as a leading regional power
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70 The Quad: One More ‘Minilateral’ Initiative, not an Embryonic Military Alliance in the Indo-Pacific Region
but also by expanding its influence throughout the world. In this aspect, New Delhi
also complains against the fact that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor would
cross the disputed territories of Kashmir (Gabriel and Carvalho 2018; Ministry
of External Affairs 2018c). (c) Likewise, these democracies worry that China’s
diplomatic and economic initiatives could render fragile countries more prone to
coercive measures (Gale and Shearer 2018; White House 2017). (d) All of these
countries wish to preserve their own interests on the seas. However, Japan and
Australia, due to their geographical configuration, rely exclusively on sea lines of
communications to trade with other nations making them warier of the expansion
of the Chinese navy and the development of military facilities in the East China
Sea and the South Pacific (Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2018d). (e) Washington
understands that Beijing has pursued economic and military strategies aimed at
the consolidation of its influence and the regional displacement of the United
States (Department of Defense 2018). Finally, (f) Australia and the United States
accuse Chinese organizations of interfering in their domestic affairs (Turnbull 2017;
White House 2018b).
However, foreign policy is understood here as a translation of national
possibi lities, capabilities, and interests in the international arena to a strategy
elaborated in accordance with domestic politics outlooks (Bergin 2018; Le Thu 2018;
Phillips 2018). Ortega y Gasset once said that each perspective molds different
ways of understanding reality (Puy 1983); therefore, visions over the Indo-Pacific
region vary as well as ideas about dealing with China.
In this respect, some issues arise: Washington represents a conception of a
“free and open” Indo-Pacific, which for the United States means a region where
four common principles underpinning the international order are safeguarded:
1) Respect for sovereignty and independence of all nations; 2) Peaceful resolution
of disputes; 3) Free, fair and reciprocal trade based on open investment, transparent
agreements, and connectivity; and 4) Adherence to international rules and norms,
including those of freedom of navigation and overflight. However, this vision
is intertwined with its disputes against Beijing. Washington considers that its
military advantage vis-à-vis China is eroding and a negative shift in the regional
balance of power may encourage competitors of the United States to challenge
and subvert the free and open order that supports prosperity and security to its
allies and partners (Defense Intelligence Agency 2019; Department of Defense
2018; 2019; Le Thu 2018). On the other hand, Australia, India, and Japan present
different approaches to China, demonstrated by developing their own strategies
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71João Paulo Nicolini Gabriel; Henoch Gabriel Mandelbaum; Carlos Eduardo Carvalho
in order to avoid provoking unwanted responses from Beijing and to maintain
solid security and diplomatic ties with Washington (Bisley 2018; Tyler and
Bhutoria 2015).
New Delhi, Canberra, and Tokyo analyze this scenario according to their
economic, military, and diplomatic resources amidst a soaring rivalry between
two leading powers. India and Canberra have many complaints against China
about political and security issues, but these countries prefer to emphasize the
idea of an inclusive and pragmatic approach towards the Indo-Pacific (Australian
Government 2017; Bisle, 2018; Ministry of External Affairs 2018d; White 2013).
Likewise, the Indian diplomacy defends an Indo-Pacific based on a multipolar
order so that this country could maintain its strategic autonomy in order to define
positions and commitments in a context that is dominated neither by Washington
nor by Beijing (Chacko and Panda 2019). Although Tokyo shows some interest in
pursuing a more assertive position on China’s regional influence and territorial
claims, the Japanese government has also attempted to reduce tensions with
Beijing (Gabriel and Carvalho 2018).
It is worth to remember that: China is the major trading partner of the United
States, India, Japan, and Australia and, except for the US, Japan, India, and Australia
lack the economic weight to endanger their trade relations with this Asian power
(Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2018d; Simões, Landry and Hidalgo 2018;
United States Trade Representative 2018; White 2013); (b) India presents some
convergence with China in terms of reforming the instruments of global governance;
therefore, it joins, alongside Beijing, initiatives such as the BRICS and the AIIB,
in which New Delhi is the second-largest shareholder (Stuenkel 2016; Zhu 2018);
and (c) Japan is moving closer to China in the trade as a way to counterbalance
the steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by the United States (Lin 2019).
Thus, an important inference in this context is that the terminology
Indo-Pacific could not be reduced to a shared vision endorsed by four democracies
to refrain China’s military, naval and economic influence throughout this
macro-region (Gyngell 2018). The idea of the Quad is directly influenced by this
context because each of these four countries develops different ways and goals
to engage in the Indo-Pacific region, although they agree on certain topics. The
question “what is the Quad?” has many interpretations as well as the definitions
of the Indo-Pacific region. The following section seeks to analyze this initiative
and its capacities among those divergences on how to act regionally and before
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72 The Quad: One More ‘Minilateral’ Initiative, not an Embryonic Military Alliance in the Indo-Pacific Region
This paper concludes that: (1) the Quad holds only a symbolic significance
among the existing entangled framework of “minilateral forums” in Asia and
Oceania because it is the only one that comprises specifically Australia, India,
Japan, and the United States; (2) studying the Quad as an institution capable
of pursuing a similar status to NATO in the Indo-Pacific region implies in a high
degree of uncertainty because systematic features demonstrate that minilateral
forums are easily started, but the advancement towards their formalization is
less frequent; (3) domestic politics aspects matter in this context not due to a
state regime, but for national pragmatic understandings about the international
relations and commercial, diplomatic and security issues; (4) the Indo-Pacific
does not have a universal meaning based on Geography. Each state defines this
region according to its interests and to its idea of where the Quad should act;
(5) the Quad is not a United States-led coalition once the other members avoid
undesirable consequences; (6) therefore, the attempt to define a joint strategy
to act in the Indo-Pacific region is hampered by their different national interests;
these four countries demonstrate different outlooks on China and on how to
engage internationally, hence the idea of Quad as a military alliance stumbles in
domestic political issues; (7) thus, this initiative has a more vivid life inside think
tanks or newspapers than among officials and bureaucracies.
It is reasonable to assume that certain think tanks and media outlets
envisage a mighty Quad and try to improve the linkages within this initiative.
The role of such institutions in promoting new ideas and perspectives to different
governmental sectors is well-documented and triggers a debate about the foreign
policy decision-making process. However, these visions about the Quad could be
described as ‘wishful thinking’ since China’s encirclement goes against pragmatic
understandings of each member. Convergences on these states’ grievances
against Beijing’s assertive international engagement are an element that should
not be dismissed, but their divergences on the idea of Indo-Pacific and their
ways to cope with China are also relevant to understand the real capacities of
the Quad.
Rev. Carta Inter., Belo Horizonte, v. 15, n. 2, 2020, p. 52-82
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