Australia is more powerful than Japan

The fear of China is stronger than the corona virus - the foreign ministers of India, Japan, Australia and the USA are working on their cooperation

The Quad - the informal amalgamation of India, Japan, Australia and the USA - is still a long way from becoming an Indo-Pacific NATO. But at least the intention is to take joint action against China.

If four foreign ministers meet physically, in times of Corona that alone is a sign that their countries are taking the matter seriously. The meeting of the foreign ministers of the USA, Japan, India and Australia on Tuesday in Tokyo was primarily a signal to Beijing. The chief diplomats of the four democratic Indo-Pacific states wanted to show that they would work together to counter China's growing claim to power in the region.

The exchange between the four countries is known as “Quadrilateral Dialogues”, or “Quad” for short. The cooperation of the Quad is more important than ever to protect its own nations and partners from "exploitation, corruption and blackmail" by the Chinese Communist Party, said the American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after a conversation with his Japanese and Indian counterparts, Toshimitsu Motegi and Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, and Australian Secretary of State Marise Payne.

An Indo-Pacific NATO?

The meeting was so important to Pompeo that he traveled to Japan despite President Donald Trump's Covid-19 illness. The other program items of his planned trip to Asia, visits to South Korea and Mongolia, however, were canceled.

It is the second meeting of the Quad Group's foreign ministers after a kick-off meeting last September in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. The idea of ​​an Indo-Pacific amalgamation as a counterweight to China had already arisen in 2007, but fizzled out. It was not until 2017 - in the wake of the intensifying trade war between the USA and China - that the initiative was revived.

In Tokyo, Pompeo brought into play the possibility of formalizing and expanding the quartet's previously loose collaboration. One could create a structure and a security framework with which the allies could meet the Chinese challenges, he said in an interview with the business newspaper «Nikkei». At the appropriate time, other countries could also become part of this community. Observers say that the work of the quad group also has a psychological aspect: Beijing should ask itself whether it will soon have to do with some kind of Indo-Pacific NATO.

China's behavior is worrying

It is above all China's own behavior that draws its neighboring countries closer together. In the past few months, Beijing has increased the number of provocations in the region. For example, Chinese fighter planes penetrated Taiwan's airspace several times in September. During the summer, Chinese warships cruised off the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands for weeks. China calls this Diayu and claims it for itself.

Relations between India and China have also deteriorated significantly in recent months. A conflict about the demarcation of the border between the two countries in the Himalayas, which has been simmering for decades, has been heated up several times. In June, 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese were killed in fighting in a high valley.

China's relationship with Australia, its natural resource supplier, has also suffered badly. Canberra, struggling with its economic dependence on China, called for an international investigation into the coronavirus pandemic outbreak in early summer. Beijing responded with trade sanctions on Australian goods such as beef, barley and coal.

Washington and Beijing face each other not only in a trade war. Hong Kong's special status and China's claims in the South China Sea are also hotspots.

Economic dependence on China

It was to be expected that the quad meeting ended without a joint explanation and without concrete results. Most Asian countries may welcome it when Washington speaks out against Beijing in pithy words. But very few Asian countries can afford to mess with China.

The three Asian countries in the Quad Group - India, Japan and Australia - are also largely dependent on trade with China. China was the main destination for Australian exports last year, and Japan was the second largest buyer. According to data from the International Monetary Fund, China is India's third largest sales market.