US-led Quad coalition a ‘useful anti-China bulwark’ in Asia say people in 10 Asean countries

  • But grouping should not expand membership, Southeast Asian respondents to Australian survey say
  • Greatest support for coalition in Vietnam and the Philippines
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 October, 2018, 3:04am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 October, 2018, 4:27pm

A US-led, four-nation coalition could play a useful security role in Asia – particularly as a bulwark against China’s rising power – but should not be expanded, students, businesspeople and officials in 10 Asean countries have said, according to in a new survey.

The report written by Huong Le Thu, a senior analyst from Canberra-based Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said there was near consensus among the 276 people surveyed that the Quad, or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, should not seek to enlarge its membership beyond the United States, Japan, India and Australia.

But the institute also said that Southeast Asian perceptions of the Quad were diverse and there was no such thing as one “Asean view” of the grouping.

The Quad was formed in November last year to patrol and exert influence on waterways in the Indian and Pacific oceans and the East and South China seas.

Watch: US and China military leaders meet for South China Sea talks

In its survey, the institute canvassed university students; officials from government agencies, the military, academia and think tanks; as well as businesspeople and members of the media in countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

More than half of respondents agreed that the Quad was an “anti-China bulwark” and supported the idea of it having a useful role in regional security.

Greatest support for the grouping was found among respondents from Vietnam and the Philippines, two of the biggest challengers to China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. Indonesian respondents were most sceptical and Singaporeans the least enthusiastic about the US-led coalition.

The shrinking ‘Quad’: how the alliance is going nowhere as Japan and India court China

Overall, 32 per cent of respondents welcomed the Quad and said it would make their countries safer while 31 per cent said it could raise tensions in the region but would not affect their countries.

Nearly 70 per cent said the Quad was expected to enforce a rules-based order, such as a 2016 Hague tribunal ruling that rejected almost all of China’s claims to the South China Sea, through which billions of dollars of international trade passes each year.

And nearly 70 per cent respondents said the Quad would grow if China continued its assertiveness in the region, especially its maritime push.

The institute said the survey showed there was a significant need for Southeast Asia to have functional enforcement mechanisms and that was where the Quad could make its biggest contribution.

The grouping of the four “like-minded” democracies was first mooted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007, but Beijing protested, saying the defence partnership was aimed at stifling China’s growth.

The idea made a sudden comeback when senior officials from the four nations met in Manila on November 11 on the sidelines of regional summits during US President Donald Trump’s maiden tour to East Asia.

How fear and paranoia about China’s rise breathed new life into the ‘Quad’ – at Asean’s expense

Observers said the revival of the concept highlighted deep suspicion and unease among China’s neighbours over Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitions for regional dominance.

It also underscored growing regional competition between Beijing and Washington, they said.

Analysts said the Quad meeting was not a coincidence given that Trump appeared keen to promote his Indo-Pacific concept as the cornerstone of his Asia strategy and worked hard to strengthen ties with its allies and partners, including India and Vietnam, to counterbalance China.