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Biden to talk COVID vaccine, China threat in ‘Quad’ meeting


President Joe Biden emphasized a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific is essential’ in his opening remarks to leaders of Australia, India and Japan, a group critical to his plans to counter China’s growing economic power. 

‘We all are concerned about a free and open Indo-Pacific is essential to each of our futures our countries. The United States is committed to working with you our partners, and all our allies in the region to achieve stability,’ he said.  

The four leaders of the ‘quad’ – as the group is known – will hold a virtual conversation with the main focus on the global pandemic. But Biden also is seeking ways to coordinate against China, who is becoming a growing trade threat to the U.S. and the Indo-Pacific region.

A senior administration official told reporters ahead of the meeting it would involve ‘an honest, open discussion about China’s role on the global stage,’ referencing ‘challenges in the region’ to free and open trade and commerce. 

Biden noted in his opening remarks it’s the first summit he’s hosting as president and the first time the ‘Quad’ has met on the leader level.

‘The Quad is going to be a vital arena for cooperation, Pacific, and I look forward to working closely with all of you in the coming years,’ he said.

Ahead of the formal sit down, the four nations agreed to finance increased vaccine production in India to address shortages in Southeast Asia – producing roughly 1 billion vaccines by 2022. 

‘We’re launching an ambitious new joint partnership that is going to boost vaccine manufacturing and global benefits, strengthen vaccinations to benefit the entire Indo-Pacific,’ Biden said of Friday’s meeting. 

‘And we’re renewing our commitment to ensure that our region is governed by international law, committed to upholding universal values and free from coercion. We’ve got a big agenda ahead of us,’ he added.

The vaccine agreement comes as the United States is facing criticism for not sharing some of its COVID vaccine supply with developing nations around the world. 

‘The United States, working closely with India and Japan, have put together complex financing vehicles that will allow for a very substantial, frankly dramatic, increase in the capacity to create vaccines, up to a billion by 2022,’ a senior administration official said on a briefing call with reporters ahead of the summit.

President Joe Biden emphasized a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific is essential’ in his opening remarks to leaders pf Australia, India and Japan

President Joe Biden holds a virtual meeting on the 'Quad': On screens are Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison

President Joe Biden holds a virtual meeting on the ‘Quad’: On screens are Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Biden has also fielded requests from allies, including Canada and Mexico, to buy vaccines made in the United States.

But the Biden administration has remained steadfast that, at least for now, it is focused on making sure that all Americans are first vaccinated even as China and Russia have engaged in vaccine diplomacy, sending badly needed vaccines to other countries. 

Administration officials have noted the United States’ $4 billion commitment to COVAX, an international effort to bolster the purchase and distribution of coronavirus vaccines to poor nations.

‘If we have a surplus, we´re going to share it with the rest of the world,’ Biden said earlier this week at an event where he announced that the U.S. had acquired an additional 100 million doses.

‘Quad’ is short for the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, and it grew out of the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. But the group previously has collaborated at the minister level. This is the first meeting of the nation’s leaders. 

It comes as Biden is placing more emphasis on the Indo-Pacific region in the face of growing economic competition from China.

Climate change was also on the agenda, with the leaders stressing their commitment to the Paris Climate Accord.

Biden spoke with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga during the 90-minute virtual summit. Secretary of State Tony Blinken will moderate. 

The 'Quad' meeting was the first time Joe Biden hosted a summit as president

The ‘Quad’ meeting was the first time Joe Biden hosted a summit as president

Japan's prime minister Yoshihide Suga addresses the 'Quad'

Japan’s prime minister Yoshihide Suga addresses the ‘Quad’

Chinese President Xi Jinping is not a part of the meeting nor a member of the 'Quad' but China's increased economic might will be a topic of conversation

Chinese President Xi Jinping is not a part of the meeting nor a member of the ‘Quad’ but China’s increased economic might will be a topic of conversation

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will be the first world leader to visit Biden in person at the White House in April

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will be the first world leader to visit Biden in person at the White House in April

That Biden ‘made this one of his earliest multilateral engagements speaks to the importance we place on close cooperation with our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific,’ White House press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier this week.  

The administration is focusing heavily on Indo-Pacific region as part of its foreign policy strategy.

Japanese Prime Minister Suga will be the first world leader to visit Biden in person at the White House, which Japan said would take place in April after Suga completes his COVID vaccination. 

Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will travel Japan and South Korea next week to meet with their counter parts there.  Austin will also travel to India.

Blinken and Austin will end their journey in Anchorage, Alaska, where they will meet with Chinese foreign policy officials next Sunday. The White House said it was important to have that meeting on American soil. 

Each of the four nations in the ‘Quad’ has a complex, if not strained, relationship with China. 

Biden, in his calls with each of the leaders during the first weeks of his administration, has stressed the need for cooperation on China.

Australia’s relationship with China has soured over a series of trade disputes.

India is in the midst of a 10-months-long military standoff with China along their disputed border in eastern Ladakh. Tens of thousands of soldiers are facing each other at friction points in the region.

Biden, in his first call with Suga days into his administration, underscored his commitment to protecting the Senkaku Islands, a group of uninhabited islets administered by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing, according to the White House.

China has called the Quad an attempt to contain its ambitions.

Morrison said there was no reason for China to object to the leaders’ meeting.

‘This is about four nations that have had a long-term interest in the Indo-Pacific. For us, this is where we live, this is where Japan lives, where India lives and of course with United States across the Pacific has had a long-term presence, so this is about an anchor for peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, and that benefits all nations of the Indo-Pacific,’ he told reporters.

Blinken has made clear that the Democratic administration believes the best counterweight to China is for U.S. allies to stand together

‘The more China hears not just our opprobrium but a chorus of opprobrium from around the world, the better the chance that we’ll get some changes,’ Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee this week.



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