By Steve Holland, David Brunnstrom, Nandita Bose and Michael Martina
WASHINGTON – Leaders of United States, Japan, India and Australia, sharing concerns about China’s growing power and behavior, meet in person as a group for the first time on Friday for a summit expected to bring progress on COVID-19 vaccines, infrastructure and technological cooperation.
The meeting of the Quad, as the grouping of the four major democracies is called, will take place just over a week after the United States, Britain and Australia announced a AUKUS security pact under which Australia will be provided with nuclear-powered submarines, a move that has been roundly denounced by Beijing.
The Quad leaders – U.S. President Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison – will meet as a group at the White House in the afternoon after Biden holds a morning bilateral with Modi. Biden will then meet separately with Suga after the Quad summit.
“We have what we call deliverables in infrastructure, on broader health engagements on science and technology, on space, on cyber,” a senior U.S. administration official told Reuters.
Specific agreements would include one to bolster supply chain security for semiconductors – an area of fierce competition with China – that will involve mapping overall capacity and identifying vulnerabilities, the official said.
Another would be a 5G deployment and diversification effort to support governments in “fostering and promoting a diverse resilient secure telecommunications ecosystem.”
The countries would also share information to combat illegal fishing and boost maritime domain awareness and take steps to help monitor climate change, the official said.
He said the summit would “have much to say” about next steps in plans to supply a billion COVID-19 shots across Asia by the end of 2022, an initiative agreed at a virtual Quad summit in March, but stalled after India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, banned exports in April amid a massive COVID outbreak at home.
“The specific issues associated with what India is going to commit to do, and our specific deliverables, with respect to vaccines, will be unveiled tomorrow at the Quad summit,” the official said.
India has said it is ready to restart vaccine exports in the October quarter, prioritizing the COVAX international vaccine initiative and neighboring countries first, but has also been seeking a waiver of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines and more access to raw materials.
“Obviously, there have been challenges in India over the course of the summer,” the U.S. official said. “But … we believe that it will be important to meet the ambitions that we laid out at that time.”
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris met with Modi on Thursday and welcomed India’s decision to resume vaccine exports and said both countries must work together to protect democracies.
While the leaders are also expected to discuss regional security, U.S. officials have sought to play down the security aspect of the Quad – even though its members carry out naval exercises together and share concerns about China’s growing power and attempts to exert pressure on all four countries.
“I do want to underscore that the Quad is an unofficial gathering,” the senior U.S. official said, adding that it was “not a regional security organization” and was unconnected with AUKUS.
China has made no effort to differentiate the two, denouncing the Quad as a Cold War construct and saying that AUKUS alliance would intensify an arms race in the region.
In his address to the United Nations General Assembly this week, Chinese leader Xi Jinping said there was a need to “reject the practice of forming small circles or zero-sum games.”
U.S. officials said Biden was keen to meet Suga, even though he has announced he is stepping down as Japan’s leader, to discuss developments in the Indo-Pacific, infrastructure, economics and trade, and also “where he thinks Japan is going” as it prepares its leadership transition.
He said Suga also wanted to discuss with Biden “recent efforts by countries to potentially join CPTPP,” referring to China, which recently announced its desire to join the regional trade pact, of which Japan is the leading member after Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2017.