The recent meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue in Tokyo revealed many of the dilemmas the United States faces in its attempt to contain China—no matter who wins the race for the White House. On one level, it was remarkable that the meeting of foreign ministers from Australia, India, Japan, and the United States happened at all, given India’s traditional reluctance to antagonize China. But the meeting itself produced scant evidence of new cooperation between the four countries, underlining how hard it is for Washington to coordinate actions even with allies and partners who share its concerns about China’s rising sway in Asia.
Getting more out of this fledgling partnership would be an important challenge for Democratic nominee Joe Biden, if he wins, given his emphasis on a more traditional, multilateral foreign policy. At the same time, he has also promised a tougher approach to China, whose president, Xi Jinping, has adopted a more assertive international posture in recent months—all this means that U.S. policy in the region will require more continuity with U.S. President Donald Trump’s approach than many Democrats would like to admit. But there is no denying that much of Washington’s Asia policy is in a mess. A broader rethink is needed, similar in many respects to the much-derided “pivot” strategy unveiled by then-President Barack Obama back in 2011.