But under the Trump administration, long known for its harsh criticism of China, Quad has been reborn, with officials from the four nations meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit on November 11. The group’s anti-China rhetoric has become increasingly explicit in the past months.
When Tillerson first championed the Indo-Pacific concept in his speech on US-India relations last October, he highlighted threats posed by China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea and its “predatory” infrastructure building in the region.
In his speech to the APEC summit in Da Nang, Vietnam, in November 2017, Trump described his vision for the region as an “Indo-Pacific dream,” stressing that the US would no longer “turn a blind eye to violations, cheating, or economic aggression,” rhetoric clearly aimed at China. “Those days are over,” he said.
In a US national security report released last December, China topped the list of challenges faced by the US, which explicitly labeled China a “revisionist” power seeking to challenge the US-led international order in the Indo-Pacific region.
During the Raisina Dialogue held in India in late January, four navy chiefs from Japan, India, the US, and Australia held a special session, during which Admiral Harry Harris Jr, commander of the US Pacific Command, labeled China “a disruptive transitional power,” while lauding US-India military cooperation.
To many analysts, many of the Quad nations’ concerns over Beijing’s “disruptive” role focus on China’s Belt and Road Initiative. As China’s flagship global project, the ambitious initiative aims to connect China with almost all major countries in the Eurasian region and across the world by building infrastructure such as ports, roads, highways and telecommunications infrastructure. With its rapidly growing influence, the project has been increasingly viewed by Washington as a tool to advance China’s geopolitical ambitions.
Speaking at the 2017 Atlantic Council-Korea Foundation Forum on December 12 last year, Rex Tillerson explicitly said that the Indo-Pacific policy was launched out of concerns over China’s Belt and Road Initiative. “China’s economic development, in our view, should take place in the system of international rules and norms,” he said, adding that the Belt and Road Initiative “seems to want to define its own rules and norms.”
Indeed, during Trump’s visit to Japan in November, when Tokyo officially launched the “Indo-Pacific strategy,” an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative was at the top of both leaders’ agenda. The meeting resulted in two agreements to “offer high-quality United States-Japan infrastructure investment alternatives in the Indo-Pacific region.”