President Biden hosted a summit meeting Friday that could turn out to be a watershed — but if you weren’t watching, you might have missed it.
The meeting brought together the leaders of a deliberately low-key group called “the Quad”: the United States, Japan, India and Australia.
U.S. officials downplayed the session, describing it as “an informal gathering of leading democracies in the Indo-Pacific.”
China wasn’t fooled. Its diplomats have spent months denouncing the Quad as a Cold War-style alliance aimed at containing Beijing’s rise as the dominant power in Asia.
And they’re right.
Biden and his fellow Quad leaders never publicly uttered the word “China,” but the Quad is all about containment. It seeks to blunt China’s growing influence, deter it from launching military adventures and prevent it from muscling the United States and other countries out of Asia’s growing markets.
The Quad isn’t a military alliance — formally, at least. A Biden aide who briefed reporters before the summit took pains to make that point three times in 20 minutes.
But last month, four navies staged a massive military exercise in the Philippine Sea east of China. The participants were the same four: the United States, Japan, India and Australia.
All four are democracies. More to the point, all four have been alarmed to see China exert economic and military power to get its way — from seizing islands and building bases on contested territory in the South China Sea to threatening Taiwan and attacking Indian army positions in the Himalayas.
In Australia, the muscle China used was economic: After Australia called for an investigation of the origins of the coronavirus, Beijing retaliated by cutting imports of Australian beef and called on the Canberra government to stifle “anti-China statements” from members of Parliament and the media.