Scott Morrison to join ‘historic’ Quad talks with Joe Biden, Yoshihide Suga and Narendra Modi

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison will soon hold virtual talks with US President Joe Biden and the prime ministers of both India and Japan in the first-ever leaders’ meeting of the Quad.

It is a significant development for the informal coalition, which has coalesced partly to balance China’s growing economic and military clout.

The meeting early on Saturday morning (AEDT) is likely to focus heavily on joint efforts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

Reuters has reported that the leaders will announce a plan for new financing agreements to support an increase in manufacturing capacity for COVID-19 vaccines in India.

The news agency quoted a US official saying the plan would “reduce manufacturing backlogs, speed vaccination and defeat some coronavirus mutations”.

The official also said some of the additional vaccines would be offered to South-East Asian countries.

An Australian Government source did not deny that report but did not provide any further information.

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

Beijing regards the Quad grouping with suspicion

The race to vaccinate against COVID-19 has created a new arena for strategic competition across the globe.

China’s government has intensified its vaccine diplomacy in the region, offering its locally made Sinopharm jab to several South-East Asian nations including Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.

A nurse receives a shot of COVID-19 vaccine at a hospital in Bali
Chinese COVID vaccines are being rolled out across South-East Asia.(AP: Firdia Lisnawati)

Australia has also pledged money to help provide some vaccines to South-East Asia, although the bulk of the government’s efforts have been focussed on the rollout in Pacific Island countries.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the four leaders would also discuss “economic cooperation and ā€¦ the climate crisis”.

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All four Quad countries have repeatedly emphasised that the group is not a formal security alliance but a gathering of like-minded countries which want to preserve common rules in the region.

But it has been driven by China’s dramatic rise, and the realisation in all four capitals that they need to intensify efforts to confront strategic challenges posed by Beijing, as well as shaping governance and behaviour across the Indo-Pacific.

Beijing still regards the Quad with suspicion, accusing the United States of orchestrating the group to contain its rise.

Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra that the meeting with Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga would be “historic”.

“It was one of the first things, the first thing I should say, I discussed with President Biden and I was so pleased the new administration were also so enthusiastic about this program, and that President Biden is taking this to another level and seeing the Quad as his first engagement in this way, and to elevate it in this way,” he said.

“It is another key step forward in how Australia has sought to keep Australians safe, by ensuring that we’re working with our partners, with our allies in particular.”

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

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