Biden to host leaders of Australia, India, Japan at White House next week

US President Joe Biden had suggested that democratic countries should have an infrastructure plan to rival China's massive Belt and Road Initiative.
US President Joe Biden had suggested that democratic countries should have an infrastructure plan to rival China's massive Belt and Road Initiative.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US President Joe Biden will host a first in-person summit of leaders of the "Quad" countries - Australia, India, Japan and the United States - which have sought to boost co-operation to push back against China's growing assertiveness.

The summit will be held at the White House in Washington on Sept 24, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

The US visits of the prime ministers of Australia, India and Japan - Scott Morrison, Narendra Modi and Yoshihide Suga - will coincide with the United Nations General Assembly in New York, which Biden will address on Sept 21.

At an online meeting of the Quad leaders in March, they pledged to work closely on Covid-19 vaccines and climate and ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific in the face of challenges from Beijing.

"Hosting the leaders of the Quad demonstrates the Biden-Harris Administration's priority of engaging in the Indo-Pacific, including through new multilateral configurations to meet the challenges of the 21st century," Psaki said.

Biden's Indo-Pacific coordinator, Kurt Campbell, said in July the long-planned in-person meeting should bring "decisive"commitments on vaccine diplomacy and infrastructure.

Biden, who is pushing big infrastructure spending at home, said in March he had suggested to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that democratic countries should have an infrastructure plan to rival China's massive Belt and Road Initiative, which features projects from East Asia to Europe.

Psaki said the Quad Leaders would "be focused on deepening our ties and advancing practical cooperation on areas such as combating Covid-19, addressing the climate crisis, partnering on emerging technologies and cyberspace, and promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific."

A senior US official said infrastructure would be among a range of topics discussed at the in-person summit.

In Beijing on Tuesday (Sept 14), a foreign ministry spokesman said: "China believes any regional cooperation framework should go with the trend of the times and be conducive." The spokesman, Zhao Lijian, told a regular briefing, "It should not target any third party."

The Quad meeting comes after Biden's image has taken a battering over the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

US officials have said ending America's longest war will allow it to divert resources and attention to tackling China-related issues.

Senator Bill Hagerty, a Republican, and former US ambassador to Japan, welcomed the plan to host the Quad leaders.

"Biden's Afghanistan withdrawal debacle made India's neighbourhood more dangerous & raises legitimate questions for Japan and Australia as well, so it's good we will be hosting Quad partners soon," he said on Twitter.

"We must repair and renew our alliances, and this one is key."

The vaccines initiative of the first summit stalled after India, the world's largest producer, was hit by a catastrophic wave of infections and halted vaccine exports.

At the March summit, the four leaders had agreed that Indian drugmaker Biological E Ltd would produce at least a billion doses by the end of 2022, mainly for South-East Asian and Pacific countries.

Last week, Japan's Kyodo News said Suga would visit Washington this month for the Quad meeting even though his term as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, and thus, as prime minister, ends on Sept 30.

Suga became the first leader to hold a face-to-face White House summit with Biden in April, underscoring Japan's central role in US efforts to face down China.