On May 25, the leaders of the Quad – the loose grouping of Australia, India, Japan and the United States – meet in Tokyo to announce several new initiatives, including plans to monitor deep-sea fishing in the Pacific, a new educational exchange program, and more. These initiatives have attracted international attention and guest predictable but fiery criticism from the Quad’s main rival, China, which complained that the alliance was becoming a hyper-militarized and destabilizing force in the region.
However, a less discussed but still important initiative was also announced at the Tokyo Quad Summit: a $100 billion investment from the Bank of Japan to finance the ongoing Quad Vaccine partnership. Announced in March 2021, the Quad Vaccine Partnership aiming at make a donation 1.2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the Indo-Pacific by the end of 2022. Below Under this partnership, India would produce vaccine doses, the United States would finance dose production, and Australia and Japan would contribute to vaccine manufacturing, distribution and financing efforts.
Beyond the humanitarian motives, this Quad Vaccine Partnership was a thinly veiled counterattack on Chinese vaccine diplomacy, under which Beijing has sold 1.9 billion doses to 118 countries worldwide, including almost all Indo-Pacific countries, and donated another 246 million. Indeed, since its launch, observers rented the Quad Vaccine Partnership as a chance for the alliance to go beyond its traditional military domain and use diplomatic engagement to counter China in the region.
However, a year later, the Quad Vaccine Partnership has underperformed expectations. Despite continued funding since 2021, the first doses of the partnership were delivered only at the beginning of 2022. In addition, the Quad has delivered less than half of its promised 1 billion doses, with six months until the end of 2022. Moreover, for many countries, the Quad’s donations pale in comparison to Beijing’s. In Cambodia, for example, the first edition of the Quad Don of 325,000 doses in April represents less than 1% of the highest that 40 million doses sold or donated by Beijing. In fact, ironically, individual members of the Quad were more successful on their own, as each nation donated millions more doses unilaterally than through their joint partnership.
How has the Quad Vaccine partnership fallen so far? The answer is deceptively simple: time. The Quad Vaccine Partnership has faced several delays, some due to unforeseen tragedies, but others due to the Quad’s short-sighted thinking. First, soon after the announcement of the partnership, India faced a devastating wave of COVID-19 infections, first New Delhi to prioritize domestic vaccine production and reduce donations. This delayed the launch of the partnership by several months.
Shortly after, the Quad encountered new problems with its choice of vaccines. The Quad chose to donate Johnson & Johnson and experimental Corbevax vaccines instead of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines – and officially, the Quad has never given an exact reason for this choice. In turn, the production of the two vaccines chosen by the Quad was program start in a single factory in Hyderabad, India, possesses by the Indian firm Biological E.
However, this decision soon ran into difficulties. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) limit the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as it may cause blood clots, and India refuse sign a liability waiver that would protect Johnson & Johnson from legal action over vaccine side effects. These two events cause Biological E will cease production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and switch to manufacturing only the Corbevax vaccine – but since this vaccine remains experimental and has never received WHO approval, it cannot be donated internationally. In addition, the limited production capacity of the original single factory in Hyderabad limit the number of doses the Quad could give.
Together, these issues caused the Quad Vaccine Partnership to be delayed, allowing other states like China and even individual Quad members like the United States to take the lead in donations while Quad Vaccine Partnership was left behind.
This failure, in turn, had consequences in the real world. The Quad’s inability to carry out its multilateral initiative effectively raises questions about whether the alliance is capable of carrying out effective diplomatic and economic initiatives. These credibility issues reinforce the perception of Quadruple reviews like Kishore Mahbubani that the alliance is a military-oriented organization that is unable to support the Indo-Pacific on critical economic, diplomatic and humanitarian issues.
This perception, in turn, present a valuable opportunity for Beijing, as it allows China to present itself as the only actor capable of successful economic and diplomatic engagement in the Indo-Pacific. In turn, such a framing makes Southeast Asian States feel that they must avoid angering China and limit their alignment with the Quad, undermining the alliance’s unstated goals of building a broad regional coalition to counter China.
So, to protect its long-term goals of building regional support and fighting China, the Quad should learn two key lessons from its vaccine diplomacy initiative. First, the story of the Quad Vaccine Partnership should warn the alliance of how nationalism and short-term self-interest can hamper the Quad’s long-term effectiveness in countering Beijing. The Quad’s first major vaccine diplomacy delay is due to India’s vaccine export restrictions, and those restrictions were politically and scientifically sound, especially given the need to contain the horrific second wave of COVID-19 in India.
However, when this delay arrived, the other members of the alliance should have acted. The other Quad members should have invested in scaling up vaccine production in their states to ensure that the alliance could donate vaccine doses by the stated target date. Such a step could have gone against the strictly short-term interests of States like the United States and Japan, which have not need produce more vaccines because they had enough doses for their populations. However, these investments would have helped overcome production bottlenecks caused by India’s export restrictions and ensured that the Quad’s vaccine doses were delivered on time, bolstering the alliance’s credibility in South East Asia.
Similar examples of short-term self-interest opposing long-term gains abound throughout the Quad Vaccine partnership. For example, instead of relying on experimental vaccines or those with liability issues, the Quad should have donated a vaccine that was better tested and less impeded by law. Although mRNA vaccines may not have been feasible in donation due to the lack of cold chain storage capacity in Southeast Asia, the Quad could have increased the production of vaccines like the Indian Covishield, which is Authorized by WHO and can therefore be donated. While these vaccines may have cost more to purchase or may have obligatory additional investment to expand their production for a global donation, the use of these vaccines could have helped the Quad Vaccine Partnership deliver the promised doses on time.
Second, the disappointing performance of the Quad Vaccine Partnership also indicates that the alliance needs to give equal priority to its non-military initiatives instead of solely prioritizing military tools. Throughout the Quad Vaccine partnership, as the initiative faced repeated delays, liability hurdles, and production issues, Quad States continued to invest heavily in expansion. defense budgets, military exercises, and more. This contrast indicates that the alliance viewed the Quad Vaccine Partnership as a secondary priority to the Quad security cooperation.
A prime example of this seemingly military mindset was seen at the Tokyo Summit. While the Quad Vaccine Partnership remained behind schedule, Quad officials only briefly discussed this issue in their joint statement. Instead, Quad executives are eager quirky their attention to the Quad’s new military initiatives, such as its plan to monitor Chinese naval activity in deep water.
In turn, this military-first mindset is wrong for several reasons. First, the constant use of military initiatives flow in the aforementioned perception that the Quad is incapable of carrying out economic and diplomatic initiatives. Secondly, this military approach is also insufficient to counter the panoply of economic and diplomatic tools that Beijing uses to expand its influence. While the Quad states have often attempted to contain China through military bases or naval presences, the vanguard of Beijing’s influence often comes in the form of trade deals such as Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), infrastructure investments in projects like China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and more. These initiatives, once launched, allow China to build closer relations with the target state and limit the influence of the United States or the Quad in these countries, such as Beijing. has done successfully in Cambodia and Myanmar.
So, to really counter China and build support in the region, the Quad needs to to offer a compelling diplomatic and economic alternative to China for Southeast Asian states. In the end, not only should the Quad engages in new economic initiatives such as offering technology transfers, trade deals and infrastructure investment to Southeast Asian states, but the alliance must also show the world that it gives priority to these initiatives at the same level as military operations. In particular, the Quad should allocate more personnel and provide more funding and resources to ensure that these new economic and diplomatic initiatives achieve their goals on time. Quad leaders should also more actively promote these new programs at alliance summits and on other media platforms to raise the profile of these initiatives and combat the perception that the alliance is primarily a military-oriented group.
In short, the Quad can no longer claim that competition with China is only in the military fields. Instead, the Quad must understand that the heart of strategic competition with China inevitably lies in the economic and diplomatic spheres, and it must allocate its resources and personnel accordingly. Defending the rules-based international order in Asia demands nothing less.