September 22, 2021

CNAS Press Note: The Quad Heads to the White House

By Lisa Curtis, Martijn Rasser, Jacob Stokes, and Zachary Durkee

On Friday, the four leaders of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue—India's Narendra Modi, Japan's Yoshihide Suga, Australia's Scott Morrison, and President Biden—will meet in-person for the first time at the White House. What is on the agenda for this increasingly important Indo-Pacific grouping? And how will the summit be viewed by China?

Experts from the Center for a New American Security's Indo-Pacific Security and Technology and National Security programs are weighing in.

  • Lisa Curtis, Senior Fellow and Director, Indo-Pacific Security: The Biden administration’s commitment to the Quad as a central pillar of its Indo-Pacific strategy will be on full display Friday at the first-ever in-person Quad summit at the White House. The Quad meeting is set to focus on COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution as well as the protection of supply chains, especially for critical and emerging technologies like semiconductors and 5G telecommunications networks. The Quad also has a role to play in helping to set standards and norms for the use of emerging and critical technologies to ensure they are developed and deployed in a manner consistent with a free, open, transparent and rules-based Indo-Pacific order. By combining their resources and expertise and bringing to bear shared democratic values that must guide technological development, these four powerful nations can shape the landscape in which new technologies will emerge. They also are expected to coordinate on climate change initiatives, including NetZero carbon emission plans, reducing reliance on coal, and renewable energy goals.

    Even though the Quad summit will focus primarily on non-military issues, make no mistake that these four nations have security issues on their mind. The Quad’s commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific is a way to push back against China’s increasingly assertive positions on its territorial claims in the East and South China Seas. The Quad’s collective work on softer issues like vaccines, technology, and climate change is part of a broader effort to manage a rising China and ensure that democratic powers are meeting challenges in the region and shaping the future order of the Indo-Pacific.
  • Martijn Rasser, Senior Fellow and Director, Technology and National Security: The Quad Leaders’ Summit in Washington is poised to be a major step in achieving a comprehensive strategic technology partnership between Australia, India, Japan, and the United States. There is clear alignment on key technology areas such as semiconductor supply chains and 5G and ‘Beyond 5G’ telecommunications. Effective collaboration and coordination in these and other areas would strengthen each country’s economic competitiveness and national security. By also emphasizing principles rooted in shared values, the Quad countries are shaping the contours of a new techno-democratic statecraft, a proactive and affirmative framework to navigate the 21st-century technology competition and maximize the odds that the technology future is a positive one.
  • Jacob Stokes, Fellow, Indo-Pacific Security: Chinese leaders from Xi Jinping on down will be watching the first in-person Quad summit closely and with trepidation. Beijing’s official response will likely hew to predictable talking points. It will rail against “exclusive cliques” while simultaneously dismissing the meeting as ineffectual. But behind closed doors, the PRC knows the emergence of a more willing and able grouping of the United States, Japan, India, and Australia creates a powerful counterweight to China’s ambitions to revise the rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

    In addition to rhetorical condemnations, observers should expect China to attempt to counter the Quad in four ways. The first is trying to drive wedges among its members. The second is attempting to convince other states in the Indo-Pacific that the Quad somehow hurts their interests. The third is promoting alternative regional institutions, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. And the fourth is constructing loose counter-coalitions with like-minded countries including Russia, Pakistan, and Iran.

    One key test for the Quad will be whether the group can rebuff China’s bid to undermine it while simultaneously delivering tangible benefits that show the value of a free and open region. The Quad’s recent track record shows promise, but the challenge from Beijing should not be underestimated.
  • Zachary Durkee, Intern, Indo-Pacific Security: The elevation, regularization, and increase in engagements underscores the growing importance that member countries have attached to the Quad. While bilateral and multilateral security cooperation among Quad countries outside of the group continues to increase; within the Quad, there remains a focus on non-security related issues – like vaccines, technology, and climate change. Friday’s meeting is likely to continue this trend. When engaging the region, particularly Southeast Asia, prioritizing and delivering on economic, development, and health challenges reflects both the hierarchy of regional concerns and a growing recognition among policymakers that an agenda beyond security is critically needed to effectively blunt Chinese influence. China's economic presence looms large over the region. Therefore, how the Quad identifies its purpose is a delicate, but critical, balance to strike when navigating the complex set of regional attitudes toward the China-U.S. rivalry.

All CNAS experts are available for interviews. To arrange one, contact Sydney Simon at ssimon@cnas.org or comms@cnas.org.

Authors

  • Lisa Curtis

    Senior Fellow and Director, Indo-Pacific Security Program

    Lisa Curtis is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Indo-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). She is a foreign policy and national securit...

  • Martijn Rasser

    Senior Fellow and Director, Technology and National Security Program

    Martijn Rasser is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Prior to joining CNAS, Mr. Ras...

  • Jacob Stokes

    Fellow, Indo-Pacific Security Program

    Jacob Stokes is a Fellow in the Indo-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, where his work focuses on U.S.-China relations, Chinese foreign policy...

  • Zachary Durkee

    Intern, Indo-Pacific Security Program

    Zachary Durkee is the Joseph S. Nye, Jr. Intern for the Indo-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Prior to CNAS, Durkee interned at the U...