Washington: Top leaders of the US, India, Australia and Japan will hold their first summit under the framework of the Quadrilateral coalition on Friday to discuss a range of issues facing the international community, the White House has announced, amidst growing global concerns over China's increasing assertiveness in the strategic Indo-Pacific region.
Announcing the virtual summit to be held on March 12, the White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that US President Joe Biden will discuss a variety of global issues ranging from COVID-19 challenge, economic crisis and climate change during the meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
Formed in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami and formalised in 2007, the Quad has met regularly at the working and foreign minister level. However, on Friday will be the first time that the Quad is meeting at the leader level, Psaki told reporters at her daily news conference on Tuesday.
"That President Biden has made this one of his earliest multilateral engagements speaks to the importance we place on close cooperation with our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific," she said.
"A range of issues, of course, we expect to be discussed, I should say, facing the global community from the threat of COVID to economic cooperation and, of course, to the climate crisis," she said.
Psaki described India, Australia and Japan as key partners to the United States.
At a separate news conference, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that the summit will showcase the Quad's ability to pool capabilities and build habits of cooperation to address some of those urgent challenges they face.
"Now, at the same time, I would just note that the Quad is not about any single challenge. It's not about any single competitor. This is an entity forged and formed because we share common interests... maritime security is, of course, an important one, but our shared interests go well beyond that.
"And I think you will see reflected in the agenda the breadth of those shared interests in the aftermath of the Quad meeting," he said in response to a question.
The Quad grouping was essentially established in 2007 to showcase what democracies can deliver together for both their own populations and also the broader international public, he said.
"Quad members are uniquely positioned to help lead the world out of the deep crises that we've spoken about recently – and, of course, that includes COVID-19 – and towards the more positive vision that we all seek. And it’s a vision that we in large part share with our fellow Quad counterparts," he said.
The Quad is a grouping with important friends and allies of the United States, and it's a grouping that is predicated on shared interests, Price said.
"There are any number of shared interests. Some of them involve maritime security, global health, climate. I would hesitate to point to one animating challenge that the Quad is set to address today. We are engaging with the Quad to take on those collective shared interests that will be relevant in that setting," Price said.
Asserting that this shows this the adminstration's commitment to the Indo-Pacific, he said it is a region that holds tremendous promise for the United States, also tremendous challenge.
The four Quad member countries have been highlighting their resolve to uphold a rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific.
The evolving situation in the Indo-Pacific region in the wake of China's increasing military muscle-flexing has become a major talking point among leading global powers.
The US has been favouring making Quad a security architecture to check China's growing assertiveness in the region.
China claims sovereignty over all of the South China Sea. Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claims.
China is engaged in hotly contested territorial disputes in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea. Beijing has built up and militarised many of the islands and reefs it controls in the region. Both maritime areas are stated to be rich in minerals, oil and other natural resources and are also vital to global trade.
At the State Department briefing, Price said the US considers itself as a Pacific nation.
"We see ourselves as a Pacific nation. We see ourselves as engaged in this region. We want to deepen that engagement, and this is an important forum with important partners with whom we share a good deal of interest, so it was important for us to demonstrate that early on," he said.
The State Department spokesperson refrained from answering questions on South Korea joining the Quad.
In New Delhi, the Ministry of External Affairs said the four leaders will discuss regional and global issues of shared interest, and exchange views on practical areas of cooperation towards maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region.
The summit will provide an opportunity to exchange views on contemporary challenges such as resilient supply chains, emerging and critical technologies, maritime security, and climate change, the ministry said in a statement.
The leaders will discuss ongoing efforts to combat Covid-19 pandemic and explore opportunities for collaboration in ensuring safe, equitable and affordable vaccines in the Indo-Pacific region, it added.