Covid-19 vaccine geopolitics and technology cooperation have entered the arsenal used by the United States and its allies around China to contain Beijing’s expansion, although the central component of the strategy remains military.
“A free and open Indo-Pacific is essential for each of our futures,” said President Joe Biden in a virtual meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi (India), Yushihide Suga (Japan) and Scott Morrisson (Australia) .
This is the first meeting of quadrilateral heads of state, short for Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. The group began to take shape after the tsunami that swept through the Indian Ocean in 2004. Settled in 2007, it disappeared and was brought back to life by Donald Trump ten years later, as part of his Cold War 2.0 against China.
Biden’s speech anticipates the meeting between the US and Chinese foreign chiefs, which will take place on the 18th in Alaska, to initiate direct contact between the two dominant powers of the 21st century so far.
By “free and open Indo-Pacific” we must understand the maintenance of the international character of the trade routes taken by China in the seas which surround it, its strategic obsession. The United States does this regularly by conducting military exercises and navigating areas the Chinese consider its own.
But the meeting went further. India, which last year had a coca cola on the border with China in a disputed Himalayan region that has left dozens of soldiers dead, has asked the group to fund the production of vaccines using the American technology in its territory.
In this case, the drugs from Janssen and Novavax. New Delhi makes AstraZeneca vaccines under license and has developed Covaxin in its territory, and has challenged with China and Russia the primacy of vaccine diplomacy – that is, supply by contract or donation to countries without assistance. in the rich world, focused on immunizing its people.
No details were given on the initiative, which raises doubts as to its feasibility. American companies resist the transfer of technology to Indians, fearing piracy and competition.
Either way, the broken down promise would be to increase vaccine supply in Southeast Asia, China’s geopolitical backyard. It is worth noting that the United States, which is building up stocks of vaccines and is criticized in Europe for this reason, has not spoken of distributing its doses in the region.
There were also promises to distribute greater technological cooperation, including 5G that pits Chinese Huawei against Western manufacturers, and to create alternatives to production chains that depend on China.
“When governments come together at the highest level, it shows a new level of cooperation to create a new anchor for peace and stability,” Morrisson told reporters.
Australia has had a series of disagreements with the Chinese during the novel coronavirus pandemic over health management and trade issues.
Suga, who took over last year and said he wanted a strong Quad, stressed the idea of a “free and open Indo-Pacific”. Japan has faced greater militarization in recent years, largely on suspicion of the United States’ commitment to its defense.
Biden signals a more organized approach from his allies than Trump’s proposal.
In some previous meetings, the group had already established a more militaristic rhetoric. China has taken note of this and officials have come to call it a “mini-NATO”, referring to the alliance created in 1949 by the West to confront the Soviet Union and, today, Russia. .
This is an obvious exaggeration, given that there is no such thing as military integration in Europe in the Indo-Pacific. But steps have been taken, such as bringing Australia into the annual naval exercise regime of the United States, India and Japan.
The message is clear, in this case: Beijing must contain its regional affirmation, starting with the militarization of the South China Sea that it considers its own, and the instrument to curb it is the threat hanging over its countries. maritime routes.
The Chinese have invested a lot in their navy, but they are very far from the American capabilities – and also from the other members of the Quad, who geographically form a seat at the exit of Beijing to the world.
In the short term, few see a real risk of war between the United States and China, but the dynamic of Asian rise in power in the face of the power established by Washington has historically generated conflicts. And there are risks of accidents, of course, and movements like the reactivation of the First American Fleet in the Indian Ocean increase suspicion.
To strengthen his position, ahead of the Alaska meeting, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Japan and South Korea – which is not part of the Quad, but which is one of the US military warehouses the most. most important abroad.
China presented its terms of engagement with the United States during the week at an annual meeting of its Congress. Although he organized the meeting in Alaska, he accused the Americans of destabilizing the world in the name of promoting democracy.
He was also clear in saying that he would not accept interference in what he sees as an internal matter, such as the crackdown on the democratic movement in Hong Kong or the treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority, which the states -United call genocide.