The United States has brought Japan, India, and Australia together in an anti-China alliance called the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad for short.
Top representatives of these four countries convened in the Australian city of Melbourne on February 11, to discuss ways to counter Beijing, among other issues.
The Chinese government responded to the meeting by condemning the Quad as “a tool for containing and besieging China to maintain US hegemony.” Beijing accused the alliance of seeking “to stoke confrontation,” with an “antiquated Cold War mentality.”
The timing of this gathering was not coincidental; it came right in the middle of the Beijing Winter Olympics, which the US, Australia, and India had condemned with diplomatic boycotts. (Britain’s influential newspaper the Financial Times described the Beijing Olympics as “the new front line in the US-China cold war.”)
The Melbourne meeting featured the foreign ministers of the US, Japan, India, and Australia, and was their fourth reunion since the Quad was re-established by the Donald Trump administration in 2017 to focus on containing Beijing.
The Quad is a vital part of our vision for the Indo-Pacific and shows the priority we place on working with partners and allies in the region. We had a productive discussion on issues that shape our collective prosperity and security. pic.twitter.com/VvEhZOEVAK
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) February 11, 2022
US and Australia use Quad meeting to push new cold war on China
The Australian government enthusiastically endorsed the Quad meeting by not only sending its foreign minister but also its Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the leader of the right-wing Liberal Party, who has made fearmongering about the supposed “threat” of China a central part of his political program.
Under Morrison, Australia has become a front line in the second cold war. The country joined an anti-China military alliance with Washington and London called AUKUS, and announced it is buying nuclear-powered submarines with North American and British technology – a very provocative move, given that all other countries that have nuclear submarines also have nuclear weapons.
In a press conference before the Quad meeting, Morrison claimed Australia has faced “coercion and the pressure,” implying that China was guilty. He framed the conflict with Beijing as a matter of “freedom,” insisting that the alliance exists to protect “a world order that favors freedom, and particularly here in a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Appreciate that PM @ScottMorrisonMP met the Quad FMs collectively before we began talks. His insights and thoughts were valuable.
We are focused on the early and effective realization of our Leaders' vision. pic.twitter.com/VfKMSRcbdw
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) February 11, 2022
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Quad members “share concerns that in recent years China has been acting more repressively at home and more aggressively in the region, and indeed potentially beyond.”
Blinken joined the Australian prime minister in portraying the meeting as “four democracies coming together.” Juxtaposing them implicitly against Beijing, Morrison claimed the Quad consists of “great democracies, great liberal democracies.”
Neither Blinken nor Morrison mentioned that Japan is essentially a one-party state that has been ruled by the right-wing Liberal Democratic Party, with few exceptions, since 1955, or that India is governed by the far-right Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been dismantling the secular state and attacking the rights of religious minorities.
Facts like these, along with the US and Australian governments’ continued history of genocide against Indigenous peoples and brutal violations of civil rights, blatantly contradicted their attempt to portray the Quad as a symbol of freedom and democracy against supposed Chinese authoritarianism.
Following the meeting, the four Quad member states released a joint statement. From the use of language, it appears that this declaration was largely written by the United States.
Blinken stated in the press conference that the Quad exists to defend the “free and open Indo-Pacific, the most dynamic region in the world with the fastest growing economies, half the world’s population.” The statement echoed this rhetoric, calling “to advance a free and open Indo-Pacific – a region which is inclusive and resilient, and in which states strive to protect the interests of their people, free from coercion.”
Blinken said the Quad seeks “to defend the rules-based system that we have spent tremendous time and effort building over these many years.” The declaration used this phrase “rules-based” three times, reflecting Washington’s attempts to create a new international legal framework that it controls, in order to isolate China and Russia.
Although the joint statement forcefully condemned North Korea and Myanmar, it was careful not to mention China by name. Despite this, it was overwhelmingly aimed at attacking Beijing, implicitly referring to it as a threat to the Indo-Pacific region.
Beijing denounces Quad as ‘tool for containing and besieging China to maintain US hegemony’
The Chinese government vociferously condemned the February 11 Quad meeting in Australia.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian asserted in a press conference on the same day, “China believes that the so-called Quad group cobbled together by the US, Japan, India and Australia is essentially a tool for containing and besieging China to maintain US hegemony.”
The Quad “aims to stoke confrontation and undermine international solidarity and cooperation,” Zhao said.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman added, “I want to stress that as the Cold War is long over. The attempt to forge a so-called alliance to contain China wins no support and leads nowhere.”
“Relevant countries should abandon the antiquated Cold War mentality, correct the wrong approach of bloc confrontation and geopolitical games, and contribute to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific,” Zhao said.
A reporter in the press conference asked the Foreign Ministry spokesman to respond to US Secretary of State Blinken’s comment that “China has been acting more repressively at home and more aggressively in the region.” Zhao replied, “Speaking of being aggressive in this region and beyond, the United States is second to none.”
Speaking of being aggressive in this region and beyond, the United States is second to none. pic.twitter.com/hOL0DSUF5L
— Spokesperson发言人办公室 (@MFA_China) February 12, 2022
Global Times, a newspaper owned by the Communist Party of China’s official organ People’s Daily, responded to the Australia meeting with an article titled “US ropes in Quad allies to fight ‘two-front wars’ with China and Russia despite spent force.”
The semi-official Chinese newspaper wrote, “The sign is clearer than ever that the US is turning Quad into a tool to serve its own strategic goal of countering China and Russia simultaneously.”
It noted that Blinken brought up the conflict in Ukraine in the Quad meeting, although the alliance claims to be focused on Indo-Pacific concerns.
Washington’s attempt to get its Quad allies on board with a cold war against Russia as well is less likely, however. Australia has taken a hard line against Moscow, but Japan and India have more complex relationships.
Japan and Russia are certainly not allies, but until recently they had cordial diplomatic ties. A conflict in 2021 over disputed islands led to souring relations, and Moscow has criticized Tokyo for joining the US in threatening Russia over Ukraine.
India’s government, led by the far-right Bharatiya Janata Party and Hindu-nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has taken an extremely aggressive line against China.
In fact, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar used the Quad meeting as an opportunity to attack China, blaming it for a border dispute that has led to violence.
Yet while ultra-conservative Hindu-nationalist politicians in New Delhi, like their right-wing counterparts in the West, have turned Beijing into a convenient scapegoat for their domestic problems, India has not joined the United States in its war drive against Russia.
In a press conference before the Quad meeting, a journalist asked Foreign Minister Jaishankar what New Delhi’s position is on the conflict in Ukraine. He evaded the question, repeating that “this meeting is focused on the Indo-Pacific.”
The Australia reunion made it clear that, while the Quad members are united in their mutual goal to contain China, they still have political differences on other issues.