WASHINGTON–President Joe Biden is holding his first summit on Friday with the leaders of Japan, India, and Australia to step up the game on vaccine distribution in the Indo-Pacific to counter China’s influence in the region.
The informal alliance called the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or “Quad” that consists of the United States, India, Japan, and Australia will discuss a wide range of topics including distribution of vaccines in the region, climate change, and critical technologies.
The summit, which takes place virtually, is the first-ever leader’s level Quad meeting.
The United States is working with the Quad partners to put together “complex financing vehicles” that will dramatically boost the capacity to create COVID-19 vaccines, up to a billion by 2022, a senior administration official said on March 11 during a conference call ahead of the summit.
“This is one of several things that we’ve tried to undertake at the outset that put a mark on our determination to step up our game in the Indo Pacific,” the official said.
These vaccines will be used to address the “acute shortage” of vaccine supply across Southeast Asia “once we have dealt with vaccination issues in the United States,” he added.
Last year, the Trump administration voiced a hard line against China’s ambitions to grow its footprint in emerging markets by taking advantage of the pandemic. And the concerns have continued under the Biden administration as Beijing seeks to exploit the health crisis to further expand its geopolitical influence through its vaccine efforts.
“There will be an honest, open discussion about China’s role on the global stage,” the official said.
Prime Minister of Japan Yoshihide Suga, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, and Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison will join the summit hosted by Biden.
The four countries cooperated for the first time in 2004 to form a joint response to the Indian Ocean Tsunami that devastated Indonesia. This relief cooperation led to the formation of the Quad in 2007 to address security issues in the Indo-Pacific region.
The leaders are expected to sign an agreement to expand vaccine production capacity to help countries that face severe shortages.
“The Quad members understand that as long as the pandemic continues to spread, none of us are safe. And they’re rising to the challenge with the ambition really of ending COVID-19,” another senior administration official said.
Besides the governments of Quad countries, the multilateral cooperation will involve partners such as the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation and companies in India that will produce and export vaccines.
The Quad leaders will also create a number of working groups, including a senior-level Quad vaccine experts group. The countries will also cooperate on climate change and emerging technologies. They will work on setting up global standards and norms for 5G and other critical technologies, and jointly develop some of the emerging technologies of the future, the official said.
The countries will also work closely against cyber attacks. However, it’s not clear whether the leaders will discuss purging China’s Huawei and other tech companies from global 5G networks.
Working with three allies on a common framework for policy and strategy is “hugely important” especially when it comes to dealing with the challenge that China poses to all democracies in the region, according to Arthur Herman, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.
Herman told The Epoch Times that the summit “is an important recognition of the fact that the development of the Quad, which really began to take shape as a strategic vision during the Trump years, will have enormous implications for developing progress and stability in the Indo Pacific region.”
Herman who is also director of the Quantum Alliance Initiative at Hudson believes that it’s important for Quad partners to be working together on the new technologies of the 21st century, mainly quantum technology.
Following the summit, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will hold a meeting with China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, and State Councillor Wang Yi in Alaska, on March 18 and 19.
The Japanese Prime Minister will be the first foreign leader to visit the United States in person, according to the senior administration official. The date of his visit will be determined later, he said.