PacNet #9 – The Quad’s Future is Tied to Soft Security

This piece is based on authors’ presentations/views at the SPF NUS-ISAS Joint Seminar on “Institutionalizing the Quad: Can it Seize the Momentum for the Future?” held on January 20, 2021.

There has been much dialogue over the future of the Quadrilateral process (Quad 2.0) involving Australia, India, Japan, and the United States in the Indo-Pacific, with many envisioning a militarization of the Quad or a securitization of the Indo-Pacific through security-centric agreements. Such debates extend to the extreme of proposing an Asian equivalent to NATO in the Indo-Pacific vis-à-vis China.

Outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo contended in October 2020 that formalizing the Quad could help build a “true security framework” to meet the challenges posed by Beijing. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has asserted that the Atlantic Alliance “must become global” and departing US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun affirmed that some speculative discussions on the prospects of forming an “Indo-Pacific NATO” had taken place on the sidelines of the US-India Strategic Dialogue. Such remarks further fuel discussions of a potential militarized Quad, a grand coalition in the Indo-Pacific to contain an increasingly assertive China.

Notwithstanding the merits of such a debate, it is worth exploring how the Quad can be institutionalized in the region, instead of only instigating a competitive power framework. This holds utmost importance, with new US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan aiming to “carry forward” the Quad format as a “fundamental foundational” aspect of America’s Indo-Pacific policy, further highlighted with the Biden administration’s recent proposal to hold a leadership summit of Quad members. For more than a decade and a half, the idea of Quad has survived in Indo-Pacific, starting with former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s speech titled “Confluence of the Two Seas” in the Indian Parliament in 2007, which triggered the debate over the Quad process. Since the mechanism’s revival in 2017, Quad member states have held several high-level and high-profile ministerial meetings, symbolizing the significance of the grouping in their foreign outlooks. While Chinese expansionism is the central motivating factor, a lack of commonality over whether to “contain China” or, instead, manage China’s influence and rise remains among Quad members, evidenced by the lack of a joint statement. How can member states institutionalize the Quad process while building a common security framework in the Indo-Pacific?

Above all, an attempt to institutionalize the Quad must be drawn on a practical and soft security framework that can gradually transform into a cohesive security (and, perhaps subsequently, a military) unit, shaped by the changing geopolitical situation. The goal of the Quad process, as it appears in their respective official statements, is to preserve a “rules-based order” in Indo-Pacific; a soft security framework must be drawn on their political, economic and ideological commonality. More importantly, such a framework must have a non-military connotation even though it would imbibe some maritime security features. Alongside such a soft security apparatus, the institutionalization of the Quad will invariably depend on building an exclusive Indo-Pacific identity, drawing its strength from democratic ideas and norms. The Quad is a political process, tied to immense soft and hard security objectives. Therefore, before (or alongside) exercising its military-economic muscles, the Quad must initiate deeper cultural and ideological diplomacy tracks to build political synergy that could eventually—given the right strategic circumstances—translate to a tighter security, and eventually a military, arrangement in the Indo-Pacific. Like NATO, driven not only by the Soviet threat but also to promote European political integration, Quad states must seek to establish solidarity and synergy before militarization.

Extending such a soft power network to further an Asian NATO equivalent entails careful political, economic, strategic, and ideological maneuvering among Quad members, who have had a clear divide in their China policies in the last two decades. In the post-pandemic period all Quad states, including the US, continue to share strong economic or multilateral interactions with Beijing. The latest EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) is a reminder that the “China connect” is a strategic reality in regional and global affairs—and Quad countries are no exceptions. Regardless whether the Quad becomes a formalized platform, all member states will need to deal with China in regional and global affairs. Although Australia’s inclusion in the Malabar military exercises undoubtedly strengthens arguments for a securitized (or even militarized) framework in the Indo-Pacific under the aegis of the Quad, Canberra’s addition does not necessarily imply creating a larger regional nexus aimed at managing China militarily. The Quad must have a value-driven approach, having drawn its strength from the “rule of law,” preserving freedom of navigation and aiming to implement democratic ideals with a “free and open” framework.

The Quad states must, firstly, invest in capability development efforts to create multi-layered networks among educational institutions, promote think tank forums in concert with the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) countries, and build scholarships or fellowship opportunities that promote ideological exchanges. Ultimately, the aim must be to build and sustain a stronger Indo-Pacific intellectual chorus challenging authoritarian and unilateral ideals and initiatives. The Quad countries need to promote a model for annual dialogues among think tanks, universities, and thinkers who could establish a platform for enhancing and amplifying such ideals. In this vein, an Indo-Pacific university or defense university in the region, with joint investment by Quad countries, could also boost intellectual exchanges and studies on how to strengthen Indo-Pacific security through coordinated political and economic engagement, while building an identity for the region and boosting purposeful maritime cooperation and effective maritime governance.

For instance, the evolution of BRICS from an abstract assembly to a concrete consortium of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa illustrates this effect. As a grouping of ambitious rising powers, BRICS has tried to influence global governance debates in its favor, even if India and China are not on the same frequency over a range of matters. More importantly, BRICS has emerged as a cohesive unit to promote the New Development Bank (NDB) as an institution the Indo-Pacific region needs. If Quad states can draw inferences from the BRICS’ model while promoting a rules-based, fair, and equitable banking culture within the Indo-Pacific, it can expedite and form overtures to a maritime nexus and connectivity-focused infrastructure development, eventually boosting and complementing supply chain networks.

The second critical variable for institutionalizing the Quad entails drawing lessons from the post-Cold War era, especially regarding creation of institutions. If China’s belligerence is the biggest motivator for the Quad to strengthen its guard in the Indo-Pacific, then China’s institution-building capabilities should merit equal deliberations and discussions among Quad countries. The gradual evolution and formalization of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), from the informal, low-profile Shanghai Five to a well-established multilateral organization, is a successful example of Chinese enterprise in this area. The “Shanghai Five” was meant to address boundary disputes and cross-border terrorism between China and the Central Asian countries. Over time, Beijing systematically expanded the grouping’s canvas to include economic, political, and security objectives, thus building a cohesive multilateral institution in Eurasia. Today, such comprehensiveness has become the hallmark of China’s deepened and broadened security approach, aptly reflected in the SCO charter. Beijing defines security beyond expedient military terms, touching upon critical economic and political domains. To compete with China, let alone build a cohesive military unit to this effect, the Quad members must first find synergy within their own strategic objectives across the spectrum—to expedite a network of intellectual engagement commensurate with their objectives in the region.

Given the onset of a new administration in the White House, and the political uncertainty in Japan owing to its upcoming October 2021 election, the time has come to invest greater thought vis-à-vis the Quad process and guide its intellectual future. Rather than a mechanism aimed only at contesting China, the Quad must emerge as a soft and succinct regional cohesive grouping that promotes a culture of democratic ideals and links intellectual persuasion with the Indo-Pacific architecture to further its acceptance and institutionalization.

Jagannath Panda is a Research Fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. He is also the Series Editor for “Routledge Studies on Think Asia.” 

Ippeita Nishida is a Senior Research Fellow of the International Peace and Security Department at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation (SPF), Tokyo.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

PacNet #8 – Rebooting the UN-US Partnership: Global Goals Require Indo-Pacific Focus

The Indo-Pacific region has seen a rise in political instability in recent years. The Trump administration and China have been at loggerheads, through the WHO, in formulating a global approach to slowing the spread of COVID-19. The region has experienced a rise in human rights violations, evidenced by the bitter treatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar, China’s persecution of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, and authoritarian crackdowns in Thailand and Cambodia. The Indo-Pacific has also witnessed China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, East China Sea, and along the Indo-China border, eliciting a defensive posture from regional powers such as Australia, Japan, and India.

In full view of political and human rights crises in the Indo-Pacific, the UN has remained silent. It has failed to enact reforms to its major organs, such as the Security Council. It has failed to bring meaningful reform to the Human Rights Council, which remains populated by serial violators, including China and Iran, as well as its inability to find its voice on rights violations against Muslim populations in China, Myanmar, and India. The UN has remained “concerned” over India’s recent Citizenship Amendment Act and subsequent Hindu violence toward Muslims, China’s housing of Uyghur Muslims, or the plight of the Rohingya, but has not insisted through Special Procedures that independent investigators gain exclusive access to the most sensitive areas. China, like other autocratic regimes in the region, has repeatedly denied or stalled invitations to UN experts wanting to conduct official visits.

Despite these shortcomings, the incoming Biden administration represents an opportunity to reinvigorate ties between the US and the UN. Doing so could catalyze economic growth and provide stability in the Indo-Pacific. Regionwide, there is no shortage of challenges that need concrete solutions, including institutional reforms—both at the Security Council and the Human Rights Council—and a more robust climate change agenda.

Past and present American administrations have discussed reform at the United Nations, chiefly in the Security Council. Static since 1945, the aging body needs to be made fit for purpose in the modern era. To accomplish this, additional permanent members should be added—with two equally qualified candidates in the Indo-Pacific. India and Japan have lobbied for years with limited support. India has been an active participant in UN peacekeeping operations around the globe and Japan has been a leading contributor of development assistance (ODA) for decades. Their constant presence on the Security Council, combined with changes to veto powers, would add two vital allies capable of defending the international order and keeping the peace. Adding a third new permanent member from Africa would win concessions from the African continent—which has contributed proposals in the past that have received little recognition in the General Assembly. One of the principle strengths of the United Nations is its commitment to the equality of states, vested in Article 2 of the UN Charter. The Security Council is a forum where Great Powers exert influence on global affairs, yet to maintain that influence, the US needs a proactive Security Council that can both provide support to multilateral initiatives and advance its interests, as well as hold human rights violators and autocratic regimes accountable.

On the human rights front, the UN could facilitate reform proposals for the Human Rights Council. The Trump administration walked away from the Council in 2018, with former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley calling the body a “hypocritical and self-serving organization.” The Secretary-General António Guterres and Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights should advocate the reform of the Council by mandating the norm of taking into account the contribution of potential candidates to the Council, as well as their voluntary pledges and commitments. While the US is sure to return to the Human Rights Council under a Biden administration, it should back a proposal that would help eliminate states with poor human rights records, such as limiting Council seats to just one term or increasing the threshold to win a seat from a simple plurality to a two-thirds majority. Abandoning the Human Rights Council, rather than advocating for its reform is short-sighted thinking—a decision that left American allies in the Indo-Pacific, like Japan and Australia, in the lurch.

Climate change is another area of cooperation where the United Nations can engage with the Biden administration. Biden has already signaled as much by appointing former Secretary of State John Kerry as his climate envoy. While Asia’s economic engine now fuels the global economy, it is responsible for more than 50% of global greenhouse gasses through rapid industrialization. The Indo-Pacific needs to make climate change a higher priority, particularly in light of recent natural disasters. The US should address a number of climate vulnerabilities by dramatically upscaling humanitarian and disaster response exercises, as seen in the Cobra Gold and Tiger Triumph exercises with Thailand and India. Climate change needs to be viewed, including by the US as a security threat. Global temperature changes facilitate seawater rise, create storm surges, and strain fisheries. Climate change pressures put stress on bilateral relations, particularly in ASEAN, which are at risk of violent naval confrontations as a result of competing territorial claims in the South China Sea. The Biden administration would be wise to adopt a coherent national strategy on climate change, a glaring hole in Trump’s anti-science doctrine, which ignored Department of Defense warnings, particularly on the Indo-Pacific in 2019.

A focus on environmental initiatives would not only bolster Washington’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, but other states in the region such as Japan, Australia, and India with Free and Open Indo-Pacific visions and mutual environmental concerns. China need not be excluded from the group; the 2nd Belt Road Forum recently demonstrated Beijing is placing greater emphasis on the environment in BRI projects. Promoting crosswalks through the convening power of the UN can kill two birds with one stone, contributing to climate change cooperation in the Indo-Pacific while moving the China-US rivalry away from a zero-sum approach. The UN should avail itself of this opportunity. The UN could provide cooperation mechanisms to mitigate climate change impacts in the Mekong Delta, the South China Sea and South Asia. Piggybacking on pre-existing initiatives such as the US-Mekong Partnership or Australia’s Partnerships for Recovery in ASEAN and the Southeast Asian region may be a template for expanded multilateral cooperation.

To reinvigorate its partnership, America and the UN must proactively adopt policies that resonate with the Biden administration’s multilateral and internationalist inclinations. Institutional reform, human rights, and climate change cooperation are key areas of synergy in the broader Indo-Pacific.

Mark S. Cogan (mscogan@kansaigaidai.ac.jp) is an associate professor of peace and conflict studies at Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka; and a communications consultant for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Twitter handle:@markscogan.

Dr. Stephen Nagy (nagy@icu.ac.jp) is a senior associate professor at the International Christian University in Tokyo; a distinguished fellow with Canada’s Asia Pacific Foundation; a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute (CGAI); and a visiting fellow with the Japan Institute for International Affairs (JIIA). Twitter handle: @nagystephen1.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

PacNet #4 – 2021: A Year of Immense Frustration in and with Japan

The year ahead may prove to be one of the most frustrating in recent Japanese history. Despite an evolving and uncertain strategic environment, the future could be bright: Japan has unprecedented opportunities to shape that development. Unfortunately, however, structural and attitudinal constraints may slam the door on those options. It is possible to overcome these impediments, but it’s hard to have confidence that Japan will do so.

As Tokyo surveys the world beyond its shores, it should be optimistic. The Biden administration accepts and embraces core principles of Japan’s own foreign policy: multilateralism, institutionalism, a consultative process, and a commitment to rule of law. Most compelling, the new administration views Beijing with suspicion and is committed to multidimensional competition with China.

The Biden team sees alliances as critical to any strategy to engage China. Washington will applaud and encourage forward-leaning partners, especially given the need in the US to focus on domestic affairs (to rebuild national consensus) and reapportion burdens within security partnerships. This gives Tokyo ample space to promote and pursue its own foreign policy within an alliance framework. The end of the Trump administration will also shift the parameters of host nation support talks, which should reduce one source of tension in the relationship.

Tokyo has a reinvigorated and restructured national security bureaucracy that has enjoyed eight years of success. Japan has been modernizing its military—much more remains to be done—and promoting capacity-building among regional security forces. Resuscitation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), completion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and other trade deals underscore Japan’s commitment to a rules-based global economic order and its ability to support it. All this has been done in the service of a strategic approach to regional security, one articulated in the concept of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” and which has been adopted by the US (even if the words may change) and other regional governments.

A new appreciation for national economic statecraft gives Tokyo a chance to focus on and address emerging 21st century challenges. A new National Security Strategy, due to be published this year, provides an opportunity for bilateral cooperation and coordination as Tokyo and Washington simultaneously craft their own versions of that document. Japan should be confident as it engages the new US administration and be ready to push the partnership forward in ways that respond to its own concerns and preferences.

Japan should call for consultations as soon as Biden’s Asia team is assembled, and plan for a Security Consultative Committee (SCC or “2+2”) meeting by year’s end. Host-nation support talks should reach a quick—even if short-term—solution so that alliance managers can consider new and creative apportionments of roles and missions to better fit current realities. Among the discussion items should be alignment of national security strategies. Integral to any talks is a candid assessment of deterrence and ways it can be strengthened. A blue-sky assessment of alliance options is in order. Given the dynamics and shifts in the regional security environment, creativity is at a premium.

That potential will likely go unrealized, however. Japan’s leadership is currently weak, divided and, preoccupied with the fate of the 2020 Olympic and ParaOlympic Games. Combined with enduring misgivings about Democratic administrations in the US, the result will likely be inertia, if not paralysis.

An absence of strong leadership is the first problem. Any successor to Abe Shinzo would likely suffer in comparison: Abe, the longest serving leader in Japanese history, had a vision for his country and the determination to realize it. Suga Yoshihide was the consensus candidate to succeed Abe after his surprise resignation last summer, but the promise of policy continuity has been overtaken by an absence of vision and foreign policy experience. Suga took up where Abe left off, promoting the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” pursuing closer security ties with like-minded governments like that of Australia, as well as key Southeast Asian partners like Indonesia and Vietnam. More visible and important to voters has been the return of scandals from the Abe era, a third wave of COVID-19 infections (the most severe yet), and Suga’s uninspiring performance in addressing them.

A weakened prime minister allowed faction leaders to reassert themselves and play a larger role in policy. An internal party struggle over how to deal with China now threatens the most important pillar of Tokyo’s foreign and security policies. LDP Secretary General Nikai Toshihiro, who favors a softer line toward Beijing, is ascendant, and China hawks are retreating. A December survey of Japanese business reveals that the corporate sector too favors a softer approach toward China and would like the Biden administration to blunt the sharper edges of the Trump hard line. Insiders complain about a lack of leadership and the weakening of the Kantei when effective policy demands strong central authority to pursue a whole of government approach.

An additional distraction is the debate over the fate of the 2020 Summer Olympic and ParaOlympic Games, postponed from last summer because of the COVID outbreak and tentatively scheduled for this summer. Hosting the Games is a matter of tremendous prestige for the Japanese government—the public is far less enamored—and it weighs heavily on decision making in Tokyo. It will absorb considerable political capital of a government that may already be overdrawn, undermining the desire or capacity to push security policy or move forward on alliance issues. All countries must balance public health and economic needs as they respond to the COVID outbreak but the Olympics are a thumb on the scale in Japan, and have contributed to an erosion of trust in the Japanese government.

Polls offer a grim assessment. After taking office with some of the highest approval ratings in modern Japanese history, the Cabinet approval rating plummeted 32 points to 42% by the end of the year.

The second problem is longstanding suspicion in Tokyo of Democratic administrations in Washington. While the alliance with Japan enjoys bipartisan support in the United States, Japanese instinctively feel more comfortable with Republicans. This reflex will be complemented by nostalgia for the Trump years, during which Japan had a special relationship with the US president. Abe’s status as the “Trump whisperer” meant that Japan never felt the brunt of the president’s anger. Japan had space to pursue preferred policies and US rhetoric aligned with Japanese interests. There may have been some problems, but benefits outweighed costs. The departures of Trump and Abe have kindled fears that the alliance will be hobbled.

Combine a weak and divided leadership in Tokyo with suspicion of the new US administration and Japan will have little capacity or incentive for creative and entrepreneurial policy making. Instead, fearful of rejection or misinterpretation and eager to conserve precious political capital there will be an inclination to hunker down and cling to the status quo. This “shelter in place” mentality will do the alliance and Japan a disservice.

This outcome could change. A prime minister that is visionary and dynamic could alter Japan’s trajectory. Recent developments put that prospect within reach. As long as it remains a mere possibility, however, the gap between what could be and what is will widen. Frustration may be one of the better outcomes.

Brad Glosserman (brad@pacforum.org) is deputy director of and visiting professor at the Center for Rule Making Strategies at Tama University as well as senior advisor (nonresident) at Pacific Forum. He is the author of Peak Japan: The End of Great Ambitions (Georgetown University Press, 2019).

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

PacNet #3 – Getting China Policy Right

It should go without saying but I’ll start by saying it: to get China policy right we must first get China right. This means seeing China as it is, not as we would like it to be or as it claims to be. If one were to believe Chinese President Xi Jinping during his annual Davos and APEC speeches, China is today a bastion of free trade and open market access and the great defender of intellectual property rights and the rule of law; its rise is and will be peaceful. We know better. Under Xi’s leadership, China has changed significantly, but not for the better (from a US perspective, that is; whether things are better or worse from a Chinese perspective is for the Chinese people to decide).

For better or for worse, the China guided by Deng Xiaoping’s teaching—“hide your strength and bide your time”; “it doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white as long as it catches mice”—is gone. The color of the cat still doesn’t matter, as long as it faithfully subscribes to Xi Jinping thought. “Hide your strength” has been replaced by Wolf Warrior diplomats stressing that “China is a big country … and you’re not.” Other Deng precepts—collective leadership, term limits, the phasing out of state-owned enterprises, and most recently, the “one country, two systems” Hong Kong formula—apparently have no place in the new “China dream.”

US policy has also evolved, in response to a changing China. With apologies for oversimplifying what was and remains a complicated and deliberate process, I would argue that the Obama administration was slow in picking up the change. It started out with the right policy, but for the wrong China. Deng would have seen Obama’s “outstretched hand” as an opportunity to be embraced. Xi saw it as a weakness to be exploited. As Xi’s power grew, first as vice president and then as the ultimate leader, his policies became more aggressive and assertive; dare we call it a “China first” policy? In return, US policy shifted (in my words, not Obama’s) from “cooperate with China whenever and wherever we can and confront and constrain when we must” to “confront and constrain whenever and wherever we must while cooperating if and when we can.” The two main elements of cooperation and confrontation were still there but the emphasis clearly changed, as Obama began his “pivot” to Asia.

To its credit, the Trump administration (although sadly not the president himself) initially got China and China policy right. His first foreign policy team, under National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (remember him?) saw China (along with Russia) as a revisionist power that was out to directly challenge US regional and global interests. While keeping the door open for cooperation, the key idea was “reciprocity.” While Trump focused on the trade deficit and saw a trade deal as the “solution” to the China problem, his national security team focused more on China’s challenge to US security interests. The focus was, correctly, on Chinese behavior.  Then along came Mike Pompeo. Aided and abetted by National Security Advisor John Bolton and Defense Secretary Mike Esper, Secretary of State Pompeo shifted the emphasis and blame to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), adding an ideological dimension that made cooperation virtually impossible, since it attacked the very source of Xi’s legitimacy.

To his credit, Pompeo did get one thing very right. He understood that “America first” could not mean “America alone” when it came to dealing with China. Trump’s grumbling notwithstanding, he strove to shore up US alliances; the incoming Biden administration has already indicated it will double down on this effort. Most importantly, Pompeo attached a high priority to formalizing the Quad, a coalition of “like-minded” states that includes Australia, India, and Japan, and building a possible Quad-plus (involving Korea, New Zealand, and Vietnam); the latter was focused on fighting the pandemic but nonetheless helped build up multilateral cooperation.

As the Biden administration assembles its Asia team and starts to develop its China and broader Asia policy, it must see China for what it is: a near-peer competitor engaged in a battle for influence vis-a-vis Washington and the West.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still pro-engagement. Washington needs to properly balance cooperation (in areas like climate change and North Korea where a long-term solution is impossible without Chinese input), while being prepared to confront and constrain (vice contain) where necessary. The Trump administration’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy needs to be retained in some form; sadly it’s likely too much to ask that the name be retained, even though it originated not in Washington but in Tokyo and would thus signal both continuity and respect for our critical Northeast Asia ally.

Top priority should be given to strengthening and expanding the Quad, to bring in additional like-minded states who subscribe to the Quad’s main operating principles: support for the rule of law, freedom of navigation, transparency, and respect for human rights in a “free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region.” Care must be given to avoid loaded terms like “league of democracies” (as put forth tentatively by Pompeo) or “an Asian NATO.” The former rules out essential players like Vietnam; the latter runs into the Asian allergy to all things European.

In their individual statements following the Quad Foreign Minister’s Meeting in Tokyo in October—there was no joint statement—three of the four ministers played down or avoided mentioning China; Pompeo (as usual but counterproductively) focused on the CCP threat. True, Beijing will see terms such as rule of law and freedom of navigation as code words aimed at China. The proper response in those instances should be “if the shoe fits, wear it.” Promoting an inclusive rules-based order is only anti-China if Beijing is bound and determined to not play by the rules. That’s China’s decision, for which it should expect consequences.

To date, Xi’s grand strategy has been tactically clever but strategically foolish. The new repressive national security law has been effective (thus far) in silencing democracy advocates in Hong Kong but has sent a clear signal to the rest of the world (and especially Taiwan) that Chinese promises, including legal agreements registered at the United Nations, are meaningless. Beijing’s heavy-handed reaction to Canberra’s request for a clear accounting of the origins of the pandemic may have hurt Australia’s wine sales (in direct violation of its World Trade Organization and bilateral trade commitments), but also clearly demonstrated that Beijing has no intention of separating politics from economics even while counseling others to do so. Beijing’s “14 demands” also reflect no hesitancy in interfering in another’s domestic affairs, a sacred principle when it comes to its own affairs. More importantly, China’s browbeating has also fortified Australia’s commitment to strengthening the Quad, just as aggressive Chinese behavior along the Indian border has prompted New Delhi to do the same.

Meanwhile, China’s recent law authorizing its Coast Guard to fire on ships entering what virtually every nation other than China considers international waters around its artificial islands and elsewhere in the South China Sea, is both tactically and strategically foolish. It’s never a good idea to be the first to challenge an incoming US administration. Biden will no doubt feel compelled to reinforce the long-standing dictum that “the US will sail and fly anywhere international law allows.” Passing this law at this time guarantees China’s relationship with the US administration will start off on the wrong foot.

The rush is on to develop—and name—a strategy that is right for the China we are dealing with today. I like “constrainment”; others have mentioned “competitive coexistence.” Regardless of what it is called, it must be a combination of cooperation and (gasp) compromise on the one hand, backed by firmness and a willingness to push back both unilaterally and multilaterally with like-minded states when appropriate. Maintaining and refining the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy, built upon an expanded and redefined Quad, should be the building blocks upon which any new strategy is formed.

Ralph Cossa (Ralph@pacforum.org) is Pacific Forum president emeritus and WSD-Handa Chair in Peace Studies.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.