Quad foreign ministers meet amid divergent expectations
Targeting China, Russia only serves US strategic demand: expert
Published: Feb 09, 2022 11:02 PM
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken steps from his plane upon arrival on February 9, 2022, to attend the Quad foreign ministers' meeting in Melbourne, Australia.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken steps from his plane upon arrival on February 9, 2022, to attend the Quad foreign ministers' meeting in Melbourne, Australia. Photo: VCG

The tone of the 4th Quad foreign ministers' meeting scheduled for Friday in Australia is still based on ideological differences and a cold war mentality, as US and Australian officials stressed the meeting will discuss the "challenges" posed by China and Russia to so-called "democracy and rules-based order." 

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Wednesday said the US image of democracy has already collapsed, and using democratic values to form cliques for confrontation is a "betrayal of democracy."

Zhao Lijian, spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, made the remarks at a routine press conference on Wednesday, saying that "democracy is a common value shared by humanity, rather than a patent owned by a few countries." 

For the "rules-based order," Zhao said China, just like most countries around the world, acknowledges and upholds the international system with the United Nations at its core, and international order based on international laws, rather than a "rules-based order" unilaterally defined by one or a few countries.   

Zhao's remarks came after US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel J. Kritenbrink and Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne made remarks to the media that the upcoming Quad meeting will discuss the "challenges" that China and Russia posed to them.

Kritenbrink said at a briefing on February 4 ahead of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's trip to Australia that the discussion of the top diplomats from four Quad members "will relate to the challenges that China poses" to their shared "values" and "rules-based order" in a number of sectors.

Similarly, Payne said in an interview with ABC on Wednesday that "The approach of authoritarian regimes," naming Russia, China and North Korea, "are not contributing to security. They are not contributing to stability." She said China and Russia's "vision of the global order is completely at odds with the vision that Australia has and our allies and our partners have."

Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations at China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times on Wednesday that "emphasizing democracy or ideological elements is just an attempt to justify and beautify the Quad mechanism, to make it look more legitimate. But in fact, the Quad is driven by US strategic demand, which fabricates fears over China and Russia that the US uses to scare its allies. It's never been driven by democracy." 

Stressing "democracy" or using the term "authoritarian regimes" to smear China and Russia and other countries is "a very outdated approach," and is just like "finding excuses to legitimize the crusaders' invasions of the Middle East," Li said. The values are just pretexts and tools, the interests and ambition of expansion are the real purposes, he noted.   

Differences within Quad

Chinese analysts said that although the US, Japan, India and Australia can sit together and talk, what they want and what they want to get from each other are very different. This makes it hard for the mechanism to have any influence and presents obstacles for enacting concrete cooperation.

Chen Hong, a professor and director of the Australian Studies Center of East China Normal University, said that Payne's point is nonsense, and making Australia a rival or enemy to China and Russia is extremely unwise. 

"China and Russia have never treated Australia as a threat. But Canberra, under the instruction of Washington, is willing to fight harder for the US while ignoring Australia's own interests and security. This is absolutely immature," Chen noted. 

Australia is different from other Quad members, as it has neither sovereignty disputes nor strategic competition with China, "so loyally serving as a pawn for the US to provoke China will make Australia lose much more than it could get," Chen said.

Sadly, Australia is a country that failed to maintain official communication channels with China due to its diehard anti-China policy, while the US, Japan and India could all maintain dialogues with Beijing despite the divergences they have with China. This proves that politicians in Canberra are making their country look stupid and keep losing the game, said Chinese experts.

"And ironically, the US even benefited from the worsening China-Australia ties, as US wines have taken a big bite out of the share of Australian wines in the Chinese market. Australia has failed to realize this and continued to serve US strategy to keep diehard hostility toward China without any doubt. How could Australian officials be so silly and so loyal to the US?" said a Beijing-based expert on international relations who asked for anonymity. 

India also has its own expectations from the Quad. According to Indian media the Economic Times, the Ministry of External Affairs of India said the four foreign ministers "will review ongoing Quad cooperation and build on the positive and constructive agenda… to address contemporary challenges such as the COVID pandemic, supply chains, critical technologies [and] climate change."

Lin Minwang, a professor at the Institute of International Studies of Fudan University, said that India shares a purpose with the other three - to contain China. "But India didn't go as far as Australia. For instance, it wasn't as provocative as Australia on China's internal affairs such as Xinjiang and Taiwan." 

The US and Australia confidently said they share points of view with other Quad members, but India is a little bit special, Lin said, noting that "traditionally, India doesn't like playing values cards, because India is a developing country. The West uses the pretext of human rights to accuse India on many things and tries to interfere in India's internal affairs, so India is very sensitive on this matter."

India now is suffering from a bad COVID-19 epidemic situation, and New Delhi is preoccupied with the economy, not China. Beijing has clarified on multiple occasions that it has no intention to compete with India, so India might find there is no need for extreme hostility at the moment. It may prefer to stress less sensitive issues like fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chains and climate change, said the anonymous expert. 

Lin said that calling China an "authoritarian regime" maybe a choice for some nationalist anti-China Indian media, but India absolutely dares not criticize Russia with the same terminology, so Australia and the US do not really share the same broad consensus with partners like India.

Chen said the Quad is not very solid, and the US even dreams to make a "Quad plus" to include countries like South Korea and Vietnam, although this is little more than a pipe dream. "Just like India and Japan, on one hand, these countries will do some little things to please the US for some benefits, but will keep engagements and exchanges with China on the other hand. They won't be willing to serve as a tool for the US. They will handle the complicated relations with China and the US based on their own wisdom."