Australia joins US, India and Japan in ‘unprecedented’ deal for coronavirus vaccines after historic Quad meeting



Scott Morrison has joined the first leaders’ summit of Joe Biden’s US presidency, forging a new strategic partnership and vaccination alliance with four of the Indo-Pacific region’s most powerful democracies.

The US President hosted the video link-up from the State Dining Room of the White House with the prime ministers of Australia, India and Japan.

It was the first time the four-member regional grouping known as the Quad had ever convened with heads of government at the table.

The partnership has had a faltering history and is usually viewed as a bloc to counter China.

But in its latest incarnation, Quad members have given it a new, broader purpose to cooperate on what Mr Biden calls “practical solutions and concrete results” to global problems, including COVID-19, climate change and cyber security.

As an early indication of its intent, the group has outlined plans to harness its enormous medical and manufacturing capacities to lift coronavirus vaccine production and distribution, mostly for the benefit of other Asian and Pacific island countries together with members of the COVAX group of nations.


The vaccine project will at first involve funding by the US, manufacturing of the Johnson & Johnson shot by India and Japan and help with logistics by Australia.

Australia’s contribution is valued at about $100 million, mainly concentrated around “last mile” distribution in South-East Asia.

“Last mile” activities generally include the steps needed to get shots in arms, from health workforce training to awareness campaigns and helping procure the disposable medical items needed to administer injections.

The goal is to crank up production of up to 1 billion doses by 2022.

A middle-aged man with white hair puts his palms together in front of Sydney Harbour Bridge image
Scott Morrison spoke with the three other Quad leaders in the early hours of Saturday morning.(AP: Dean Lewins)

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who sat in on the summit, declared “these four leaders made a massive joint commitment today”.

“We have taken the Quad to a new level,” Mr Sullivan said from the White House.

As it drives a plan to immunise its population, the US will not be sharing any shots produced in American pharmaceutical plants until domestic needs have been fully met.

After the leaders’ summit, a working group of bureaucrats will be charged with negotiating further details, financing and commercial terms of the deal.

Those who brokered talks behind the scenes say discussions had been held “around the clock” to give the US President and the three prime ministers a “historic, deliverable” announcement for their Summit.

‘Pillar of stability’

A composite image of Scott Morrison, Joe Biden, Yoshihide Suga, and Narendra Modi
It was the first Quad meeting between Mr Morrison and his counterparts in the US, Japan and India.(ABC/AP)

In its re-emergence in 2021, the Quad is placing a heavy emphasis on practical actions the four countries can take, rather than narrowly defining itself as a bulwark against Beijing’s conduct as an expanding economic, military and strategic power.

As a measure of the shift, the word “security”, once considered the unifying threat that bound the group together, rated a mention only twice in the summit’s final joint statement, titled The Spirit of the Quad.

Even so, its members have each been confronted by China’s power and the leaders did not hide their angst or their purpose.

During the brief section of the summit open to the media, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga spoke of feeling “emotional” about its re-emergence and the group’s dedication to realising a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.

His Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, told colleagues: “The Quad has come of age. It will now remain an important pillar of stability in the region.”

Without naming China, Mr Morrison stressed the need for countries of the region to respect and support the “sovereignty, independence and security” of others.

Mr Biden laid down his additional aspiration that nations be “free of coercion”, a feature of Chinese government behaviour that each Quad member is aggrieved by, whether economic, territorial or through forms of foreign interference in their own jurisdictions.

All four leaders have agreed to meet in person at their next Summit before the end of the year.

“The ambition of these engagements is fit to the moment; we are committed to leveraging our partnership to help the world’s most dynamic region respond to historic crisis, so that it may be the free, open, accessible, diverse, and thriving Indo-Pacific we all seek”, the Quad members said in their official written statement after the inaugural talks.

Huawei or the highway

A middle-aged man in a suit at table talks to three elderly men via monitors in wooden boardroom.
Scott Morrison said the Quad marked the arrival of a new dawn in the Asia-Pacific region.(AP: Dean Lewins)

In their private talks, the leaders also addressed China’s dominance in, and their growing dependence on, hi-tech information systems.

India, Japan and the US have considerable clout as competitors in those industries, but have struggled to compete against cheaper, mass scale production by state-owned enterprises under the CCP’s command.

Large cyber attacks, a global shortage of microchips and the race to build fast 5G mobile networks have exacerbated those rivalries.

In a likely nod to the cyber security threats posed by Chinese behemoth Huawei, the Quad has pledged to “encourage cooperation on telecommunications deployment, diversification of equipment suppliers and future telecommunications”.

Biden dives into climate diplomacy

An elderly man in a dark suit and face mask sits at white-tableclothed desk in front of US flag.
The Biden administration is starting work to strengthen its partnerships in Asia-Pacific.(Reuters: Tom Brenner)

At his first international summit since moving into the White House, Mr Biden offered a hint to the tactics his administration would use to herd major economies towards greater effort on climate change.

It is a personal policy preoccupation of the President.

The issue has been identified as a “priority” for the Quad, beginning with the formation of a working group to “strengthen and enhance actions globally” and keep a “Paris-aligned temperature limit within reach”.

The language used in the joint statement is measured, non-binding and non-specific, but Biden administration officials have said US Climate Envoy John Kerry will engage with countries on their individual commitments to emissions reduction, mitigation, climate finance and more.

To Asia, with haste

Having elevated America’s bonds with like-minded democracies of the Indo-Pacific, the Biden administration is about to embark on a diplomatic blitz of the region in a further statement of its intention to strengthen partnerships and alliances as counter-balances to China’s influence.

Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and Defence Secretary, Lloyd Austin, will visit Japan and South Korea, before Mr Austin ventures on to India.

All three countries have long managed fragile relations with Beijing.

But even as it marshals friends and support, the Biden brand of diplomacy is not to isolate or ignore China.

The foreign ministers of India, Japan, Australia and the US pose for a photo
The foreign ministers of the Quad’s nations met in Japan last year, including Australia’s Marise Payne.(Reuters: Kiyoshi Ota)

On return to the US, Mr Blinken and Mr Sullivan will land in Anchorage, Alaska, for the administration’s first face-to-face meeting with senior Chinese officials; Foreign Minister Wang Yi and the overseer of the Chinese Communist Party’s foreign policy settings, Yang Jiechi.

State Department spokesman Ned Price has acknowledged there is a “long litany of disagreements” with China, including “Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Tibet, pressure on Taiwan, broader human rights abuses, the South China Sea, the Mekong, economic pressure, arbitrary detentions, the origins of COVID-19, other issues”.

Washington’s aim in rebuilding the Quad and in the Seoul, Tokyo and Delhi talks is to enable it to “engage Beijing from a position of strength,” the State Department says.

By expanding from a narrow maritime security focus, the Quad has deliberately made a play for even greater clout with smaller, like-minded nations.

Highlighting its “practical” vaccine initiative, the senior US administration official involved in steering pre-Summit negotiations said meeting basic needs of the people within the region is integral to the survival of the grouping.

“If the Quad cannot do that, if it can’t address constructively these issues, we will quickly lose relevance and will be strategically insignificant”, the senior official said.

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Where to now for Australia-China trade?(Bill Birtles)

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