The arrival of Yoon Suk-yeol as President of South Korea earlier this year is a golden opportunity to strengthen the Quad by adding a new member.
Beijing went on a rampage last week after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan. Although the People’s Republic of China has never had sovereignty over the island, it continues to insist that Taiwan be brought under its control, by force if necessary, in defiance of Washington and other backers of the island. the island. In a transparent display of its military might, Beijing has begun exercises involving warplanes, warships and missile strikes in six areas around Taiwan. Some are just 12 miles off the coast of the island and are clearly intended as punishment to Washington for allowing Pelosi to show American friendship in Taipei, even though President Biden had no authority to prevent him from doing so. In her role as President, Pelosi is the second in succession to the American presidency, behind Vice President Kamala Harris, and therefore has an important status.
These drills are the largest and most threatening to Taiwan since Beijing launched missiles into waters north and south of the island in 1995 and 1996, when Washington hosted then-President Lee Teng- today. Although Beijing regularly sends warplanes into Taiwanese airspace, these live fires are unusual and appear to be a repeat of a potential and highly threatened blockade and invasion of the island. If that happened, it would almost certainly escalate into a regional war, involving not only the United States, but also American allies, including Japan and Australia, all members of the Quad.
With the world’s attention focused on the northern Indo-Pacific, it’s easy to forget that a real-time example of the reshaping of the world order is unfolding in the south. China has been courting South Pacific nations for some time, trying to expand its diplomatic reach. The controversial China-Solomon Islands deal signed on April 29 this year, widely covered by The Sunday Guardian, caught the western world off guard. It allows the Solomon Islands to ask China to send police, armed police and military personnel to the country for a variety of reasons, including the “maintenance of social order” and the “protection of life and property”. some people “.
Although the agreement allows China to “visit ships to carry out logistical resupply and make stopovers and transitions in the Solomon Islands”, Colin Beck, permanent secretary for foreign affairs and a senior Solomon government official, insisted that he had nothing to do with the establishment of military bases there. But Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the United States have all expressed concerns that the deal will make it easier to deploy Chinese military forces among sparsely populated and often poor countries in the Indo-Pacific.
Compared to China, Australia has historically had closer ties with nations in the region, providing them with more financial aid than any other country. China-Australia relations are currently strained by their own trade and political issues, and Australia fears a nearby Chinese military base poses a “concrete threat” to its security. Japan’s chief cabinet secretary agrees the deal will upend regional security, while the White House has accused China of “putting forward obscure and vague deals with little consultation” in the region.
Thus, Australia, Japan and the United States, three members of the Quad, have all criticized China’s foray into the South Pacific. Was it a Quad position? A spokesman for the Indian Foreign Ministry, Arindam Bagchi, was asked this question. “I don’t know if the Quad made a statement, you meant these three countries did and you read it as a statement from Quad. I am not,” Bagchi reportedly said. Later, in June, a statement was issued following the meeting between the Foreign Ministers of India and Solomon on the sidelines of the 2022 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Rwanda, “renewing and reaffirming the commitment of both countries to strengthen bilateral cooperation to new heights”. ”. Note the word “bilateral”.
China’s behavior in the Indo-Pacific has become increasingly assertive in recent years, and the rise of the Quad is a demonstration of the will of the United States, Japan, Australia and the India to react more vigorously to defend their position and their interests in the region. This has not gone unnoticed in China. The Global Times, a state-owned tabloid, has repeatedly called the Quad “a sinister Indo-Pacific gang to contain China”. A huge compliment. But the response to China’s seduction of the Solomon Islands would have been considerably more effective if it had been a strong “quadruple response” rather than a few tepid bilateral statements. And it would have been even more effective if the Quad had been expanded to include another power in the region: South Korea. In other words, a response from the Quint.
The arrival of Yoon Suk-yeol as President of South Korea earlier this year is a golden opportunity to strengthen the Quad by adding a new member. During his keynote address at the Asian Leadership Conference in Seoul in July, Yoon presented his nation as a confident and constructive force whose time has come. This echoed his high-spirited and confident inauguration speech earlier this year, when he said that “it behooves us to take on a greater role for the benefit of our stature as a world leader. We must actively protect and promote universal values and international standards based on freedom and respect for human rights. A perfect CV to join the Quad.
A few weeks earlier, Yoon had taken the unprecedented step of attending a NATO summit in Madrid, where South Korea and Japan were invited as partner nations. South Korea also joined the US-backed Indo-Pacific Economic Forum this year, which aims to counter China’s growing economic influence in the region. Yoon also pledged to mend frayed ties with neighboring Japan to strengthen trilateral U.S.-Japan-Korea relations. Significantly, he made it clear that his country was ready to join the Quad. Former US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper endorsed the view in February this year that the Quad should be expanded to form the Quint, but the Biden administration has so far been lukewarm about it. idea.
The Yoon administration has already recalibrated its country’s foreign policy by taking a tougher stance on China and North Korea, while welcoming closer defense cooperation with states. States and hosting advanced missile defense systems, US-made nuclear-capable submarines and bombers. He also bolstered his country’s defense policy by pursuing large-scale arms deals with partners from Eastern Europe to the Middle East to Southeast Asia.
Chairman Yoon Suk-yeol’s proposals to join the Quad to form a new Quint have so far been rejected. The Biden administration is nervous about making the Quad look more like an “Indo-Pacific NATO”, saying it would exacerbate structural tensions with Beijing and belie India’s non-aligned strategic posture. “There are many ways we can engage with South Korea,” the White House press secretary said during a press briefing earlier this year. “It’s an incredibly important relationship. But the Quad will remain the Quad,” immediately ending any expansion speculation.
It is a mistake. South Korea participated with India in the Rim of the Pacific 2022 (RIMPAC) exercise, which ended last week. It was the largest international maritime exercise in the world, with more than two dozen participating nations, designed to strengthen their collective strengths and promote a free and open Indo-Pacific. It was also a great rehearsal for South Korea’s progressive alignment on the Quad, both at sea and in the air.
In just over half a century, South Korea has undergone a dramatic transformation from a poor, authoritarian country devastated by war to an economically vibrant, culturally rich and resilient democracy. It is a major commercial hub and technological powerhouse. The country is already known for its leading role in the global semiconductor and robotics supply chains, and is expected to make a huge contribution to technologies at the heart of China’s competition with the Quad, such as artificial intelligence. , quantum computing and synthetic biology.
The way is surely open for the Quad to grow to become the Quint. Together, the five countries could cooperate more deeply on norm-setting, diplomatic messages, practical economic measures to maintain a liberal rules-based order and gradually strengthen interoperability and other forms of military cooperation. Despite complementary economic policies and expanding dialogue, South Korea and India have yet to formalize a high-level expert exchange program, but given India’s significant advantages in culture talent in AI and STEM, it would be a boon for Seoul and New Delhi to establish such a scholarship under the Quint. Of course, such cooperation depends on New Delhi’s willingness to make it happen, but it is increasingly possible for India to see the Quint as a reinforcement rather than a limitation of its strategic autonomy.
This would certainly help counter China in the Solomons.
John Dobson is a former British diplomat, who also worked in the office of British Prime Minister John Major between 1995 and 1998. He is currently a visiting scholar at the University of Plymouth.