Seeking to build ties with regional allies amid a growing confrontation with China, US President Joe Biden is likely trying to understand where those allies stand through the Quad Summit on Friday, ahead of the first meeting between the top US and Chinese diplomats next week.
After taking office in late January, Biden vowed to move away from his predecessor Donald Trump’s unilateral approach on foreign policy and planned to rely on working with allies to counter China, which he named as the “most serious competitor” of the United States.
The US president will join a virtual video conference with leaders from Australia, India and Japan on Friday in the first-ever top-level summit among the four nations known as the Quad. Amid rising US-China rivalry in recent years, the Quad has increasingly been viewed as part of the US strategy to counter China’s growing strength in the Indo-Pacific region.
The first Quad Summit also comes less than one week before top US officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan, are scheduled to meet with senior Chinese officials, including Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in Anchorage, Alaska on March 18.
MULTILATERALISM OVER UNILATERALISM
Political analysts pointed out that the Quad Summit could serve as a good example of Biden’s commitment to building alliances and working with allies when dealing with China.
“After Biden took office, he hoped to rely on multilateralism and traditional allies. Although Biden is likely to continue Trump’s confrontational stance against Beijing, he would not follow Trump’s lack of specific strategy.
That’s why Biden wants to understand where US allies stand on various issues first, which could help him form a clear strategy when dealing with China,” Yen Chenshen, a researcher at the Institute of International relations, National Chengchi University in Taiwan, told Sputnik.
The expert explained that the Quad Summit could be a great opportunity for Biden and his team to figure out on which specific issues the United States could secure support from Australia, India and Japan.
“The summit can help Biden understand on which specific issues key US allies in Asia would be aligned with the United States. I think this is very important before the first meeting with top Chinese officials. Otherwise, if they engage with China and the results become surprises to its allies, that would be unacceptable for those US allies,” he said.
The summit would also allow Biden to become aware of key concerns from those allies, especially thorny issues in their bilateral engagement with China, the expert added.
POSSIBLE MISCALCULATIONS ON TAIWAN
Regional security issues, such as growing competition in the South China Sea and possible military conflict in the Taiwan Strait, have always been the top priority of previous meetings under the Quad format.
While leaders of the four countries are likely to repeat their rhetoric on safeguarding the “freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea as a clear message to deter alleged Chinese militarization in the region, the Quad leaders are unlikely to issue any strong statement on issues related to Taiwan, Professor Yen suggested.
“I believe it’s possible [for them] to bring up the issue of ‘freedom of navigation’ in the South China Sea. But on Taiwan-related issues, I think they’ll just deliver a very vague message on the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. I don’t think they’ll send a message that would anger Beijing or challenge the ‘One China’ policy,” he said.
Following the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the Nationalist forces retreated to Taiwan and continued to rule the island under the name of the Republic of China. Despite Taiwan’s relative antimony, the government led by the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing has always considered the island to be an “inseparable part” of the country and asked other countries to adhere to the so-called “One China Policy.”
Military intervention from the United States was a key reason why communist forces from Beijing failed take over Taiwan in the 1950s. As the United States continued to provide military assistance to the island under the Taiwan Relations Act, issues related to the self-ruled island also became one of the key disagreements in US-China bilateral relations.
As part of his strategy to escalate tensions with China, Trump took a series of measures to boost US support for Taiwan before leaving office in January. In addition to selling more advanced US weaponry to Taiwan, Trump also lifted restrictions on official contacts between US officials and their Taiwanese counterparts.
Facing growing US pressure on Taiwan, China responded by increasing its military activities in the Taiwan Strait and stressed that it would never give up the option of “unification with Taiwan by force.” A spokesman of the Chinese Defense Ministry reiterated on Monday that China would never allow “Taiwanese separatist forces” to split the country and would not promise to give up “using force.”
As part of its commitment to the “One China Policy” after establishing formal diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979, the United States has never openly committed to defending Taiwan in case of a military invasion from China.
Chinese military analysts argued that mixed signals from the United States could lead to miscalculations from both sides on the possibility of future military conflicts in the Taiwan Strait.
“The United States has never clearly stated that it would offer military assistance to Taiwan [in case of Chinese invasion]. It’s actually very dangerous for Biden to send such mixed signals. This could lead to an illusion from China that there is a 50 percent chance if it initiates a military campaign against Taiwan, the United States may not intervene. That’s why strategic positions like this have to be very clear,” Ni Lexiong, a military expert at the University of Politics and Law in Shanghai, told Sputnik.
The expert stressed that the United States should not to underestimate China’s resolve in unification with Taiwan.
“Unification using military force is justified under Chinese traditional ethics. In China, everyone has to support national unification. A nation’s territory cannot be separated forever. The solved the question of whether a war is justified or not. It doesn’t really matter if other countries agree with this or not,” he said.
Such miscalculations could lead to unexpected escalation of a military conflict to an all-out nuclear war, the expert warned.
“Chinese people don’t have high expectations about life. People like us, as long as we have food to eat and we’re not starving, we can definitely get by. Even if our economy was hurt by 50 percent, but as long as Taiwan is reunited with the country, that’s a price we’re willing to pay.
As China still lag behind the United States in conventional weapons, the military conflict because of Taiwan could easily escalate into an all-out nuclear war,” he said.
As the rivalry between Beijing and Washington will inevitably intensify, more and more nations in the Indo-Pacific region would be forced to pick a side between China and the United States, Professor Ni suggested.
“It looks like the Asian NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] will be formed sooner or later. That’s my opinion. As US-China bilateral tensions continue to escalate, such an alliance would be formed without being named as an official alliance.
In addition to Asian countries, NATO countries in Europe like the United Kingdom, France or Germany could also join this new alliance. If war will break out in the future and countries are forced to pick a side, that’ll be the outlook: the developed nations vs China,” he said.
The expert noted that smaller Asian nations, especially those in Southeast Asia, may not fully support the United States willingly unless they were given no choice.
Professor Yen from Taiwan expressed similar views that member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) may not want to join the US-led alliance over concerns of economic ties with China.
Beijing may not be overly concerned over Australia, India and Japan working closely with the United States, because those three countries have very little chance of becoming China’s allies due to the nature of bilateral competition, Professor Yen suggested.
Nevertheless, during the first meeting between the top US and Chinese officials next week, both sides are likely to focus more on issues that they could cooperate with each other, such as joint efforts in combating the global COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.