WASHINGTON—President Joe Biden held his first multilateral summit on March 12 with the leaders of Japan, India, and Australia to begin a partnership for the distribution of at least a billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines in Asia to counter China's influence in the region.
The four leaders made a joint commitment to bring together Indian manufacturing, U.S. technology, Japanese and American financing, and Australian logistics capabilities to address the severe shortage of vaccine supply across the world, particularly in Southeast Asia.
The informal alliance, called the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or “Quad,” held its first leaders level meeting.
Prime Ministers Yoshihide Suga of Japan, Narendra Modi of India, and Scott Morrison of Australia joined the virtual summit hosted by Biden.
"We’ve got a big agenda ahead of us," Biden said in his opening remarks during the summit, "but I’m optimistic about our prospects."
He stressed that the Quad would be a "vital arena" for cooperation to ensure the region is "governed by international law, committed to upholding universal values, and free from coercion."
The leaders also addressed climate change and several regional issues, including "freedom of navigation and freedom from coercion in the South and East China Seas, [North Korea's] nuclear issue, and the coup and violent repression in Burma," national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters during a press conference on March 12.
Sullivan, however, said the meeting wasn't about China, downplaying the message that was delivered earlier.
"The foreign leaders did discuss the challenge posed by China and they made clear that none of them have any illusions about China, but today was not fundamentally about China," Sullivan said.
"The Quad is not a military alliance, it's not a new NATO, despite some of the propaganda that's out there."
Last year, the Trump administration expressed a hard line against China’s ambitions to expand its footprint in emerging countries by taking advantage of the pandemic. And these concerns have continued as the regime in Beijing now seeks 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,” a senior administration official told reporters on March 11 during a conference call ahead of the summit.
The official said the Quad summit will show America's "determination to step up our game in the Indo-Pacific.”
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 United States, through the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, will finance Biological E Ltd., an Indian company, to support its effort to produce at least 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2022, according to a White House fact sheet.
The Quad leaders will also create a number of working groups—for vaccine efforts, climate change, and critical technologies. The technology group will help set standards in key technologies, including 5G and artificial intelligence, and help address shortages in critical supplies.
It isn't clear whether the leaders will take collective action to purge Huawei and other Chinese tech companies from global 5G networks.
During the meeting, however, the United States "expressed its concerns about Huawei and the relationship between Huawei and elements of the Chinese government and military apparatus," Sullivan said.
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 the Quad partners should work together on the new technologies of the 21st century, mainly quantum technology.
Sullivan, together with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, will hold a meeting with China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, and State Councillor Wang Yi in Alaska, on March 18.
Biden believes that the United States "will end up in a stiff competition with China and we intend to prevail in that competition," Sullivan said.
"We believe we are in a better position to deal with the challenge from China than we were the day that he took office," he said.
The U.S. team won't discuss tariffs or export controls during that meeting, Sullivan said, but will focus on issues with respect to Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Taiwan, as well as Beijing's economic coercion of Australia, assertiveness around the Senkaku Islands, and aggression on the Indian border.