What is the 'Quad'? Joe Biden to meet with informal strategic alliance

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President Joe Biden's five-day trip to Asia set out to focus on relations with nations in the Indo-Pacific region following months of attention directed toward Russia's war in Ukraine.

After a stop in South Korea, Biden is in Japan, where on Tuesday he plans to meet with the leaders of three other nations: Japan, India and Australia. The group is dubbed the "Quad," short for the "Quadrilateral Security Dialogue."

Here's everything you need to know about the informal alliance and the upcoming summit.

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A short history of the 'Quad'

In December 2004, a record-breaking earthquake and subsequent tsunami in the Indian Ocean ripped through multiple nations, displacing thousands and causing widespread death.

The United States, Japan, India and Australia came together in the wake of the disaster, creating a core group focused on coordinating relief. Just days later, the group was disbanded and the nations joined broader relief efforts coordinated by the United Nations, Reuters reported at the time.

But three years after that, in 2007, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe suggested a more formal meeting of the four nations. The first Quad gathering was held that May at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum in the Philippines and was characterized as an "informal grouping" where common interests were discussed, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"Open and transparent, this network will allow people, goods, capital and knowledge to flow freely," Abe said in August of that year.

The group only lasted for a year.

Amid unclear objectives and mounting Chinese pressure, Australia, India and the United States hesitated to formalize the dialogue. Abe unexpectedly resigned in September 2007, eliminating the Quad's "main cheerleader and architect," according to the CSIS.

However, the Quad made a comeback in 2017, and held senior official meetings that November in the Philippines, says a Congressional Research Service report. It's still a loose alliance, not a formal partnership.

"I think the idea is how do we bring together countries that share these same values to reinforce these values in the global architecture," U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells said at the time, according to the CRS report.

Biden convened a virtual Quad meeting in 2021 aimed at combatting COVID-19 and climate change while bolstering technological advancement.

Does the group threaten China?

A group goal, left unsaid, is to fetter China's power.

When the informal alliance between the Quad nations first formed, China sent formal protests to each government, the BBC reported at the time.

Capitalizing on the shaky objectives of the group, Beijing described the group as a forming "Asian NATO" – a sentiment that stoked fear among Indian nationalists and leftists who, like China, believe Asian security should be molded by Asian powers, according to Foreign Policy.

China's relations with the Quad members only worsened in the pandemic, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

During a trip to Japan last May, Chinese Ambassador to Japan Kong Xuanyou described the Quad's diplomacy as representing a "Cold War mentality" and "100 percent outdated." In February, a different Chinese diplomat described the Quad as a "small clique" that is “bent on provoking confrontation.”

What's next for the Quad?

Tuesday's meeting of Quad leaders will be the fourth time the group has interacted since its first virtual meeting in March 2021; an in-person meeting was held in September 2021 and another virtual meeting was held in March.

Indian external affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said the meeting will serve as an opportunity to discuss developments in the Indo-Pacific region and their initiatives and that Indian Prime Minister Narendra and Biden will likely hold bilateral talks, Business Standard reported.

"The leaders will review the progress of Quad initiatives and working groups, identify new areas of cooperation and provide strategic guidance and vision for future collaboration," Bagchi said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What is the 'Quad' and why does it matter?