Quad Leaders Meet on Heels of AUKUS Security Pact

First in-person meeting since COVID struck . . .

Last Friday, leaders of the United States, Japan, India, and Australia, which form the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, held their first in-person meeting in Washington, D.C. The grouping reaffirmed its commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific and announced several new initiatives, including co-operation on COVID-19 vaccines, climate change, and emerging technologies. The Quad meeting came about a week after AUKUS, a security deal between the U.S., the UK, and Australia to bring nuclear-powered submarines to the region, was announced. While the Biden Administration stressed that Quad discussions are informal and separate from AUKUS, the two initiatives appear complementary in their shared goal of countering China’s assertiveness in the region.

Differing views from ASEAN . . .

Reactions to the U.S.-led AUKUS agreement by members of ASEAN, representing a significant region of great-power competition, were mixed. Singapore and the Philippines welcomed the AUKUS defence pact, while Vietnam’s tacit endorsement was more muted. In contrast, Indonesia and Malaysia raised concerns that the security arrangement would make conflict more likely by contributing to a regional arms race. While most states within ASEAN have traditionally balanced their relations between the U.S. and its allies, on one side, and China, on the other, the changing security architecture makes it increasingly difficult to maintain this approach and adds to fears among some ASEAN members of an erosion of the bloc’s influence in the region.

What next for Southeast Asia?

While the Quad and AUKUS were greeted with varying degrees of caution and skepticism, ASEAN has generally welcomed efforts by the U.S. and its allies to co-operate on issues beyond security, including the provision of public goods to combat COVID-19 and the climate crisis. A survey of policy-makers and thought leaders in the region found they were far more concerned about the pandemic and economic recession than they were about security issues. With many Southeast Asian countries still struggling to contain COVID outbreaks and increase their inoculation rates, pursuing practical co-operation may assuage anxieties and foster goodwill in the longer term.