President Joe Biden and the leaders of Australia, India, and Japan made a veiled dig at China during their first in-person summit on Friday, promising to work together for a stable, open, and democratic Indo-Pacific.
The so-called Quad decided to press forward on a coordinated plan to supply Covid-19 vaccines around Asia, established a new climate project and said the four nations would begin convening yearly summits in Biden's latest push to maintain US leadership in the face of a growing China.
In a joint statement, the presidents of the four democracies said they were dedicated to "promoting the free, open, rules-based order, rooted in international law and undaunted by coercion," without explicitly mentioning China.
They stated, "We stand for the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic values, and state territorial integrity."
The phrase "free and open" has come to mean concern about China's growing economic, diplomatic, and military presence, as well as risks to crucial international sea lanes.
As the negotiations began, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated that the four "liberal democracies" aimed to create a "strong, stable, and prosperous region."
According to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, the conference demonstrated the four countries' "common vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific," At the same time, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised the Quad's "shared democratic values," despite his contentious record on minority rights at home.
While the leaders avoided mentioning China in public, Japanese foreign ministry spokesman Tomoyuki Yoshida said Suga expressed "strong concern" during the meetings about Beijing's aggression at sea, trampling of Hong Kong's special status, and mass incarceration the Uyghur minority.
Demonstrating vaccination effect
Biden, who frequently speaks about democracies having to prove their worth in the face of big autocracies like Russia and China, wanted to emphasize that the Quad was about action.
"We are four major democracies with a long history of working together. He stated, "We know how to get things done, and we are up to the challenge."
By the end of next month, India plans to export eight million one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
"This is an immediate delivery from the Quad into the Indo-Pacific region," Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla told reporters, promising to provide vaccinations of "quality and affordability."
While the amount is little — Biden vowed earlier this week that the US would donate an additional 500 million doses to the world — it marks the return of India's massive pharmaceutical industry after the country's own major Covid outbreak halted exports.
The Quad leaders announced they would offer more than one billion vaccines by the end of 2022 during virtual talks in March, with India providing production, Japan and the US supplying financing, and Australia providing logistics.
The Quad leaders stated the four nations would all make "ambitious" pronouncements at the next Glasgow climate summit to get the warming world to net zero emissions by 2050, which is another critical priority for Biden.
India has only committed to reducing its carbon intensity, not its emissions, stating that sweeping cutbacks are unachievable for a growing country that hasn't been responsible for most global warming in the past.
The Quad leaders announced they will form a task force to reduce shipping emissions by 2030, coordinating among the major ports of Los Angeles, Mumbai, Sydney, and Yokohama.
There is no military element.
Despite growing tensions following deadly border clashes last year, India has been the most cautious about impressions that it is banding together against China.
Even as they pushed to deepen collaboration, US officials emphasized that the Quad was not a military alliance.
Last week, the US formed another alliance — AUKUS — with Australia and the United Kingdom, including the sharing of sensitive nuclear technologies.
Australia will buy nuclear-powered submarines as part of AUKUS. Even though delivery is years away, the news enraged China and sparked a violent battle with France, seeing its previously negotiated contract to sell Australia's conventional submarines canceled.
Morrison called the Quad a "very practical initiative," but said that it was part of a more significant effort to create "a region that we wish to be free of coercion at all times."