Quad’s plan is damagingly divisive, despite the denials
According to reports citing an unnamed senior US official, Australia, India, Japan and the United States, the so-called Quad, are reportedly looking at a joint regional infrastructure plan to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The US official was quoted as saying that the project was on the agenda for talks between US President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during the latter’s visit to the United States later this week. Apparently, the preferred terminology is to call the plan an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative rather than a rival.
“China might build a port which, on its own is not economically viable. We could make it economically viable by building a road or rail line linking that port,” the US official was quoted as saying on Monday.
If that was really what the Quad’s plan was all about, it would be welcome, as funding to expand the connectivity of Asia, Africa and Europe through improved infrastructure never seems enough. China has already invested more than $50 billion in 20 countries along the ancient Silk Road trade routes, but it welcomes other nations making their own contributions and cooperating to promote shared and sustainable growth over the long term.
But whether the Quad is really interested in building new roads, high-speed railways and airports is questionable. Simply calling the plan an alternative does not mean that is its purpose.
Instead, the plan is an outcome of the transition in the domestic policies of the four countries and the coordination of their strategies toward what the Trump administration has taken to calling the IndoPacific region.
In particular, it appears to be an extension of the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor being promoted by India and Japan, which serves only to highlight the shared anxieties the four countries have about China’s rise and the progress of its Belt and Road Initiative. And, perhaps more pertinently, the common sense of purpose they have discovered in seeking to counter what they all seem to consider a threat to their interests.
By boosting the commerce between China and the more than 60 countries involved, the Belt and Road Initiative is further shifting the center of gravity of the global economy to China. As a result, the four countries have all changed their stances toward China from engagement to strategic competition in a bid to maintain their advantages.
So, rather than being an alternative, the plan being pursued by the Quad is instead intended to displace China’s initiative.
Yet, given the interdependence of economies today, rather than implementing a plan that would only prove to be damagingly divisive, the Quad should seek to implement one that is truly complementary to the Belt and Road Initiative, as that would be more rewarding, not only for themselves but for all.