What is the Quad, and how did it come about?

<span>Photograph: Zhang Xiaoyu/AP</span>
Photograph: Zhang Xiaoyu/AP

Leaders of the US, Japan, Australia and India gathered in Tokyo on Tuesday for a summit of the Quad. What is the group, where did it come from and why do diplomats keep coming up with strange names for various partnerships?

What is the Quad?

Formally the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, the Quad began as a loose partnership after the 2004 Indian ocean tsunami, when the four countries joined together to provide humanitarian and disaster assistance. It was formalised in 2007 by then Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe but fell dormant for nearly a decade, particularly amid Australian concerns that it would irritate China.

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The group was resurrected in 2017, reflecting changing attitudes towards China’s growing regional influence. Both the Trump and Biden administrations saw the Quad as key to a pivot towards placing more focus on the Indo-Pacific region, particularly as a counterweight to China’s assertive actions. The Quad leaders held their first formal summit in 2021 and met again virtually in March.

Anthony Albanese, Joe Biden, Fumio Kishida and Narendra Modi at the Japanese prime minister’s office.
Anthony Albanese, Joe Biden, Fumio Kishida and Narendra Modi at the Japanese prime minister’s office. Photograph: Zhang Xiaoyu/EPA

Is it an ‘Asian Nato’?

China has complained that the group represents an attempt to form an “Asian Nato”, though unlike that alliance there is no mutual-defence pact in effect. Quad members say the group is meant to deepen economic, diplomatic and military ties among the four countries. And while they don’t often explicitly say it, those partnerships are meant to be a bulwark against Chinese aggression. In a March 2021 declaration laying out the “spirit of the Quad”, the leaders said: “We bring diverse perspectives and are united in a shared vision for the free and open Indo-Pacific. We strive for a region that is free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion.”

Who are the new faces?

Tuesday’s meeting marks the first in-person gathering of the group for the Japanese prime minister, Fumio Kishida, who took office in October 2021, as well as for Australia’s new prime minister, Anthony Albanese, who was sworn in on Monday, two days after Australia’s parliamentary election and one day before the summit.

What about India?

The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, is attending as he faces increasing global scrutiny over his government’s crackdown on minorities, and some authoritarian tendencies. The other members of the Quad have been united in standing up against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, especially with sanctions, but India increased its purchases of Russian energy supplies after the war began. Moreover, the invasion has led to food shortages that are causing price spikes, yet India banned wheat exports following a heatwave that could make this global challenge much tougher to resolve.

Who else is involved?

South Korea has expressed interest in joining the Quad, though US officials have said they are not contemplating adjusting the membership. The group has held “Quad-plus” meetings that have included South Korea, New Zealand and Vietnam, which could form the basis for future expansion or partnership.