US, India, Japan and Australia counter China with billion-dose vaccine pact
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and three of its closest Indo-Pacific partners have pledged to deliver up to one billion doses of coronavirus vaccine across Asia by the end of 2022 during of a carefully choreographed Friday summit to counter China’s growing influence.
President Joe Biden and the leaders of Australia, India and Japan – countries known together as Quads – pledged at their first summit to work to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific and to cooperate on maritime, cyber and economic security, issues of vital importance for the four democracies facing the challenges of Beijing.
“We renew our commitment to ensure that our region is governed by international law, committed to upholding universal values and free from coercion,” Biden told his counterparts, without naming China.
His national security adviser Jake Sullivan called the virtual summit a big day for US diplomacy, as Washington sought to revitalize its alliances and approach Beijing from a position of strength ahead of a high-level US-China meeting this week. next.
“The four leaders discussed the challenge posed by China, and they made it clear that none of them were having any illusions about China,” Sullivan told reporters, adding that they all believed that the democracy could prevail over “autocracy”.
Freedom of navigation in the South and East China Seas, recent cyberattacks and the security of the semiconductor supply chain were also discussed, as well as the North Korean nuclear issue and the coup and the “violent repression” in Myanmar, he said.
In a joint statement, Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged to work closely on COVID-19 vaccine distribution, climate and security .
“We aspire to a free, open, inclusive, healthy region, anchored in democratic values and without constraint,” they added.
Leaders agreed to create an expert group to help distribute the vaccines, as well as working groups on climate change, technology standards and the joint development of emerging technologies. An in-person summit would be held later this year, they said.
“NEW LEVEL OF COOPERATION”
Suga told reporters he had expressed strong opposition to China’s attempts to change the status quo in the region, and Modi told the session that the Quad had “come of age” and “will now remain an important pillar. stability in the region “.
Morrison called the meeting a “new dawn in the Indo-Pacific” and added: “may our partnership be the catalyst for peace, stability and prosperity”.
Confronting China has been a rare common ground for Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress. In a statement, the top Republican of the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Michael McCaul, said he was satisfied with the Quad meeting.
Indian Foreign Minister Harsh Vardhan Shringla said the summit agreed that US vaccines will be made in India, which New Delhi has requested to counter Beijing’s expanding vaccine diplomacy.
A Quad fact sheet said the United States, through its International Development Finance Corp, will work to fund Indian drug maker Biological E Ltd to produce at least 1 billion doses of COVID vaccine -19 by the end of 2022.
He also said that Japan was in talks to provide concessional yen loans to India to expand the manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines for export.
Sullivan said the vaccines would be sent to countries in Southeast Asia, elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.
The Biden administration told Reuters on Tuesday that the United States and Japan would help fund Indian companies making vaccines for US drug makers Novavax Inc and J&J.
An Asian diplomat said countries in Southeast Asia, where China competes heavily for influence, were “desperate” for vaccines and the end of 2022 was still far away.
“The question is how fast can they get them out,” he said. “It’s important to get them out as soon as possible.
“INIMIC TO OUR VALUES”
India, Australia and Japan have all faced security challenges from China, heightening their interest in the Quad, whose cooperation dates back to the joint responses to the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. in 2004.
The group was revived under the Trump administration, which saw it as a way to push back China. The United States hosted a meeting of foreign ministers in 2019, which was followed by another in Japan last year and a virtual session in February.
Friday’s meeting coincided with a major U.S. diplomatic campaign to solidify alliances in Asia and Europe to counter China, including next week’s visits by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to the Japan and South Korea.
Blinken will stop in Alaska on his return to meet with China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, and State Councilor Wang Yi – the first high-level face-to-face contact between the world’s two largest economies under the Biden administration. .
Washington has said it will not hold back its criticisms of Beijing on issues ranging from Taiwan to Hong Kong and the genocide it says China is committing against Muslim minorities.
Sullivan, who will attend the meeting with Chinese officials, said he did not expect details on US tariffs or export controls to be major topics, but added:
“We will communicate that the United States will take action in terms of what we do in terms of technology to ensure that our technology is not used in a manner contrary to our values or our security.”
Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Michael Martina, Jeff Mason and Doina Chiacu; additional reporting from Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo, Alasdair Pal in New Delhi and Euan Rocha in Mumbai; Editing by Mary Milliken and Alistair Bell