On March 12, in the first-ever Quadrilateral Security Leaders’ summit that took place virtually, the four member countries — Australia, India, Japan, and the United States — reiterated their commitment to promote a free, open rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific. Following the order, they will advance security and prosperity and counter threats both in the region and beyond. The landmark summit resulted in a single joint statement showing greater alignment of interests and approaches among the four countries.

China’s growing aggression compelled the Quad countries to revive the grouping in 2017, after a decade of lying dormant. Taiwan, a fellow democracy under its direct threat, seems to be a plausible member. However, even though the U.S. and Japan support the expansion of Taiwan’s global space, certain of the contribution that Taiwan could make towards ensuring a rules-based order, Taiwan is not only absent from the high-level discussions but also not at the top of the Quad’s agenda yet.

Discussing Taiwan under the Quad framework might demonstrate the four countries’ commitment to maintain the rules-based order in the region, but including it in the Quad Plus might not be a step in the right direction. Taiwan should figure prominently in the discussions within the Quad at all levels and the focus should be on finding a way to facilitate Taiwan’s participation in the Indo-Pacific.

While China is one of the main reasons for the four countries to revive the Quad, it is important not to use Taiwan’s participation as a card against China. Given the Quad members have their own respective problems with China, Taiwan’s inclusion in the Quad Plus does not help it realize its wider strategic interests. It might also incite tensions between Taiwan and China. To expand Taiwan’s international space, the Quad should initiate dialogues that are beneficial to both Taiwan and countries in the Indo-Pacific.

Several countries have embraced the Indo-Pacific framework to engage with allies. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) issued its own outlook on the Indo-Pacific. European countries such as France, Germany, and the Netherlands have also announced their Indo-Pacific policies. However, most have not yet shown a keen interest in becoming a part of the Quad Plus. Similarly, President Tsai Ing-wen has also not called for Taiwan’s inclusion in the Quad Plus, but on several occasions, she expressed interest in extending cooperation with like-minded countries in the Indo-Pacific.

If Taiwan’s constructive participation in the Indo-Pacific is the focus, it might be reasonable to expand the Global Cooperation and Training Framework (GCTF), a dialogue mechanism established by Taiwan and the U.S. which now includes Japan. Quad countries such as Australia and India should be included in this platform to learn from Taiwan in wide-ranging areas such as public health, cybersecurity, women empowerment, and climate change. This way, the GCTF could very well be incorporated in the Indo-Pacific framework. Expansion of the GCTF would serve a dual purpose: expand Taiwan’s international space, and provide a platform for countries to learn from Taiwan’s expertise and experience.

An important area of cooperation is health. Covid-19 made countries realize that without joint efforts and a holistic approach, individual countries are slower and somewhat hapless in countering the pandemic. The fact that Taiwan handled the pandemic responsibly and effectively cannot be over emphasized. It is crucial that Indo-Pacific countries intensify cooperation in the health sector, building on the success of policies like Taiwan’s donation of masks and Personal Protective Equipment and India’s vaccine donation campaign.

Indo-Pacific minilateral dialogues involving or focusing on Taiwan at Track 1.5 and Track 2 should be initiated. These dialogues are not necessarily official, with the latter not involving government representation at all. The conversation need not focus on China, but a variety of other issues affecting the world could be included.

This will facilitate Taiwan’s closer engagement with other countries that have embraced the Indo-Pacific such as Germany, France, the Netherlands, and the ASEAN member states. It will also allow Taiwan to foster its bilateral partnerships within the framework of the Indo-Pacific.

Quad countries have had extensive cooperation with Taiwan at least on the economic and people-to-people fronts. Expanding areas of cooperation and strengthening engagement is crucial. Major stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific stand to gain from Taiwan’s inclusion in the Indo-Pacific discourse, and the regional order will be further bolstered.

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TNL Editor: Bryan Chou, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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