Trump administration officials are quietly considering the creation of a NATO-style alliance with Asian countries in an effort against China, the Washington Times reported.
The idea was first publicly floated by Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun last month in a discussion regarding the current informal alliance between India, Australia, Japan, and the United States, commonly known as "the Quad."
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"It’s something that I think in the second term of the Trump administration or, were the president not to win, the first term of the next president, it could be something that would be very much worthwhile to be explored," Biegun said during a U.S.-India strategic dialogue on Aug. 31.
The Quad alliance has received greater attention in recent weeks as the four countries engage on Indo-Pacific issues. Envoys from the four countries met virtually Friday to discuss issues germane to China’s rising geopolitical ambitions and the rule of law.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will also travel to Japan next week to meet with Quad foreign ministers in one of the highest-profile diplomatic summits of the Trump administration.
Experts say there is more reason than ever to think a new defensive alignment is possible, especially as India and Australia face antagonism from China. Indian soldiers broke into pitched conflict with the People’s Liberation Army in the Himalayas this summer, while China has detained an Australian journalist.
"The Quad really has legs at this point and I think that’s because there’s a growing consensus among the Quad countries, as well as other nations in the region, that China’s activities there are not only aggressive, but increasingly threatening to global stability," Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program at the Wilson Center, told the Washington Times.
Solidifying alliances in the Indo-Pacific has been a major priority for Washington in recent months as it sizes up the China challenge. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has made multiple overtures toward bringing allies into the fold on key issues such as freedom of navigation and defending liberal democracy. Esper called allies in the region an "asymmetric advantage" Washington possesses over China.
Accordingly, arms sales to Pacific allies have increased during the Trump administration, while Washington has also led the way in curbing Beijing’s expansionist attitude in the South China Sea through new appeals to international maritime law.
These new tactics coincide with Pompeo’s call for a "coalition" of democracies and other like-minded countries to fight back against the Chinese Communist Party.
Allies have already responded favorably to the idea of closer cooperation within the Quad and beyond against China.
"The Free and Open Indo-Pacific vision is increasingly important in the post COVID-19 world," said Japanese foreign minister Toshimitsu Motegi on Tuesday. "We would like to confirm the importance of further deepening the collaboration among us and many other countries to realize the vision."