The Quad’s Potential to Stand Against China

By Stew Magnuson

Wiki Commons illustration

On March 12, members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue — the United States, Japan, Australia and India — held a virtual meeting and released a joint statement reaffirming their commitment to “a region that is free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion.”

At last, some good news when it comes to the rivalry with China.

The Quad is just what it says — four nations with mutual interests — gathering to discuss ways they can serve as a bulwark against China’s aspirations to be the sole Asian superpower and spread its repression beyond its borders.

It has already held one joint naval exercise and will no doubt organize more.

The quad’s joint statement also declared it would “launch a critical- and emerging-technology working group to facilitate cooperation on international standards and innovative technologies of the future.”

The Quad could be much more than a military alliance.

In the January 2020 issue of National Defense, this column called for a technology alliance between the United States, Australia and Japan. It followed the magazine’s first reporting trip to Australia to cover the Australian Air Show and — later in the year — the first trip to Japan in more than 10 years to cover the inaugural DSEI Japan defense trade show.

The trip to Australia revealed a nation highly motivated to boost the capacity of its domestic industrial base, and one that can punch above its weight in providing military technology that can serve as a counterweight to China in the Indo-Pacific region.

It was at that show where the Royal Australian Air Force and Boeing revealed their intentions to develop an indigenous, fully autonomous jet fighter. Since that announcement, the program has made great progress, carrying out its first test flight one year after the announcement.

The DSEI show in Japan a few decades ago might have been inconceivable as anti-militarism was enshrined in the country’s constitution and laws after World War II. But the kid gloves are beginning to come off as China continues to poke Japan in the eye. That’s probably a bad move on China’s part.

In April, Japan and the United States agreed to pool their resources and work together to counter China’s dominance in 5G technology.

The world was caught sleeping when China cornered the fifth-gen market. All indications show that won’t be the case for the sixth-generation wireless networks. U.S corporations are already coalescing to take on China for what comes after 5G.

The United States has committed $2.5 billion and Japan $2 billion to cooperate on 6G. It may only be seed money, but it’s a good indication that the two nations understand the power of cooperation and that they don’t intend to get caught sleeping again.

The April 16 White House statement also pledged to cooperate with Japan “on research and technology development across diverse fields: Cancer Moonshot, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, quantum information science and technology, civil space cooperation … and secure information and communications technology.”

Further, “Together, we will redouble our energies to build the next generation of American experts on Japan through a renewed two-year fellowship program,” the statement said.

Such people-to-people exchanges are critical.

Our reporting in Japan found serious language barriers with executives manning trade show booths who had great difficulty explaining what technologies they had to offer. And while it’s fair to say few Americans have mastered conversational Japanese, English is the international language of trade and science.

Meanwhile, the United States can do better encouraging its citizens to strengthen the bonds between the two nations. The April 16 statement promises to do just that with fellowships and scholarships.

Now, U.S.-Japan cooperation should be extended to Australia and India.

Language, for starters, is not a barrier for technological exchanges with Australia and India.

Australia — a stalwart ally in the global war on terrorism — is also one of the Five Eyes allies, the English-speaking nations that cooperate on intelligence sharing.

All the major U.S. defense companies have Australian subsidiaries. The two countries also have a joint hypersonics program that is fully funded in the 2022 budget proposal.

India is more of an unknown to the magazine when it comes to what it has to offer in a technological alliance against China. It has relied on Soviet and then Russian military technology for decades, but U.S. companies have made some inroads in selling weapon systems there.

It has great human resources and is the only member of the Quad that shares a land border with China.

National Defense ­— as it enters a post-COVID-19 world and travel becomes more safe — will do its best to answer these questions about India and continue to report about developments in Australia and Japan, concentrating on opportunities where the four nations might cooperate.

Creating a robust technology alliance to counter China will take more than breaking down language barriers and penning joint statements, particularly when it comes to military technology.

U.S. regulations, for example, strictly control sensitive technology and information. The other members have their own bureaucracies to consider and “not-made-here” biases. It would also be a shame if shoddy cyber practices or espionage allowed China to steal whatever the Quad develops.

These first steps toward a tech alliance against China are a start, but bolder action is required.

Topics: International, Global Defense Market

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