Weeks after Beijing passed a law enabling its coast guard to use arms against intruders near disputed isles, Tokyo confirmed its coast guard can fire on vessels close to the Senkaku Islands — if it thinks they are about to commit violence. Government officials and experts tell Kyodo they think this will deter Chinese aggression, papering over a perceived gap in Japan’s defenses.

The government in Tokyo also has reason to be cheerful about the recent visit of the new U.S. secretaries of state and defense, which ended with mention of the Senkakus and a joint statement expressing “serious concerns about recent disruptive developments in the region, such as the China Coast Guard law.”

And while there was no singling out of China after a recent virtual summit of the “Quad” leaders of Japan, Australia, India and the U.S., the pledge to deliver a billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to Southeast Asia should go some way to allaying fears that the forum would be just a talking shop, writes the JT Editorial Board.

Can the 'Quad' effectively counter China's influence? | INSIDE STORY | AL JAZEERA ENGLISH
Can the ‘Quad’ effectively counter China’s influence? | INSIDE STORY | AL JAZEERA ENGLISH

That said, India was already likely to produce and distribute that amount of vaccine by the end of 2022, Quad or no, Brahma Chellaney suggests. That doesn’t mean the summit wasn’t a success, though. In fact, China’s recent behavior has served to catalyze the consolidation of the grouping, he argues.

While the focus in Japan has been on China’s maritime maneuvers, Beijing is deploying similar tactics on land, Chellaney notes, likening China’s reported 600-village plan for the border area with India to its artificial-island tactics in the South China Sea — where the map has been redrawn without firing a shot.

But the Quad must tread carefully as it promotes its vision of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific, avoiding the trap of being perceived, wrongly, as a purely anti-China alliance, warns Stephen Nagy. Painting itself into this corner will only fuel Beijing’s narrative of victimhood and prove to be grist to the mill for China’s territorial ambitions.