Four-way talks meant to contain China miss regional development demand

By Lian Degui Source:Global Times Published: 2017/10/31 20:03:39

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono recently proposed a strategic dialogue among leaders of the US, India, Australia and Japan. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to propose the idea to US President Donald Trump during his trip to the island nation in early November, said Nikkei. Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice G Wells echoed the plan, saying that the US is looking at a working-level quadrilateral meeting with India, Japan and Australia to deepen security cooperation among the four countries.

Although Wells refuted reports that such a move is aimed at containing China, statements by other senior US officials sound suspicious. Wells said the mechanism will offer countries in the Indo-Pacific region an alternative to predatory financing or unsustainable debt, while US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently rebuked China for being an irresponsible international actor prone to predatory economic policies.

As Kono said the aim of the mechanism was to promote quality infrastructure investment in Asia, he is apparently thinking about seeking the initiative of trade rule-making to counter resource-free China. The free trade concept promoted by the four countries can counterbalance China's Belt and Road initiative.

The proposed quadrilateral dialogue is based on so-called values. Abe raised the notion of "values-oriented diplomacy" 10 years ago which reflected a sense of superiority over China. This quadrilateral group has been dubbed by some media outlets as an Asian NATO.

Wells said the idea hopes to bring together countries that share the same values in the global architecture. It seems that some Americans have given consent to the "values-oriented" strategic concept raised by Japan, as this concept feeds their nostalgic Cold War mind-set.

Investment and trade are an important means to promote world economy. If the US, Japan, Australia and India can coordinate and support infrastructure construction and economic development of Indo-Pacific countries, they are more than welcome. But if they try to incorporate values into economic issues and display prejudice and hostility toward other countries, they will not bring stability to the region.

A US saddled with a tight budget, a financially indebted Japan, an Australia eyeing a free ride on China's economic development and an India still struggling to become a developed country can hardly spare any effort to contribute to the public good.

Geopolitical competition and value judgments are affecting the way the US and Japan articulate their political and economic policies. Last year, Abe proposed the "free and open Indo-Pacific strategy," echoing the Obama administration's rebalancing the Asia-Pacific policy and the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement both of which aim at putting China in check. If they stick to such a mind-set, they will miss crucial development opportunities offered by this era.

The author is a professor at the School of Japanese Studies, Shanghai International Studies University.


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