‘Quad’ meets at White House as China looks warily on

A general view of the White House in Washington, U.S. July 15, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

Leaders of the United States, Japan, India and Australia met on Friday for a summit amid shared concerns about China’s growing power and behavior, a meeting expected to yield progress on COVID-19 vaccines, infrastructure and technological cooperation.

The first in-person meeting of the Quad, as the grouping of the four major democracies is called, will be watched closely in Beijing, which criticized the group as “doomed to fail.”

“We stand here together, in the Indo-Pacific region, a region that we wish to be always free from coercion, where the sovereign rights of all nations are respected and where disputes are settled peacefully and accordance with international law,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told the start of the meeting. U.S. President Joe Biden met first with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Oval Office, and then told his Quad partners that a vaccine initiative agreed at a virtual Quad summit in March was “on track to produce an additional 1 billion doses of vaccine in India to boost total supply.”

Modi told the Quad meeting the initiative would be a great help for countries in the Indo-Pacific region.

Biden said the Quad represented four major democracies, who “know how to get things” and are “up to the challenge,” while

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the meeting showed strong solidarity between countries and their “unwavering commitment to a … free and open Indo-Pacific.”

The Quad plan to supply a billion COVID-19 shots across Asia by the end of 2022 stalled after India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, banned exports in April amid a massive COVID outbreak at home.

India has said it is ready to restart vaccine exports in the October quarter, prioritizing the COVAX international vaccine initiative and neighboring countries.

The Quad is expected to announce several new agreements, including one to bolster supply chain security for semiconductors and to combat illegal fishing and boost maritime domain awareness, a senior U.S. official said, referring to initiatives prompted by concerns about China. It will also roll out a 5G partnership and plans for monitoring climate change.

The meeting comes just over a week after the United States, Britain and Australia announced an AUKUS security pact under which Australia will be provided with nuclear-powered submarines, a move that has been roundly denounced by Beijing.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian appeared to criticize the Quad in a briefing on Friday, saying “A closed, exclusive clique targeting other countries runs counter to the trend of the times and the aspirations of regional countries. It will find no support and is doomed to fail.”

Before the meeting, U.S. officials 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.

China has denounced the Quad as a Cold War construct and says the AUKUS alliance would intensify an arms race in the region.

Suga, who is stepping down as Japan’s leader, will hold a separate meeting with Biden after the Quad session.

Suga wanted to discuss with Biden “recent efforts by countries to potentially join CPTPP,” the U.S. official said, referring to China, which recently announced its desire to join the regional trade pact.

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