NEW DELHI — Alongside the gladhanding, strutting and tweets from world leaders at two Asian summits over the past few days, one of the most important geopolitical developments came from a low-key meeting between civil servants from four countries.
Officials from the United States, Japan, Australia and India met on Sunday (Nov 12) on the sidelines of the Asean summit in Manila to restart the “quad”, a diplomatic initiative set up a decade ago to counterbalance China’s growing power in the region.
None of the four mentioned China in subsequent statements, but each touched on issues likely to make Beijing nervous.
They talked of the importance of the Indo-Pacific region being “free and open” and bound by a “rules-based order”. All except India called for freedom of navigation in the region, potentially challenging China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
“The very fact that this meeting happened is very important,” says Mr Harsh Pant, a fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi think-tank.
“It tells you that major powers have looked back at the last decade and made an assessment that whatever China has done has not been beneficial to the balance of power.”
The quad, short for Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, was conceived in 2007 but disbanded the following year after complaints from Beijing.
Those objections were heard loudest in New Delhi, which is traditionally wary of formal alliances, and Canberra, where the government hoped to dissuade China from acting aggressively in the region.