(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden will meet with the leaders of Australia, India, and Japan on Friday, as members of the “Quad” plan to unveil a series of initiatives, from semiconductors to vaccines, that they hope can counteract Chinese influence across the Pacific.
Yet success will mean navigating the sort of thorny issues that have dogged the informal alliance since its creation following the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed a quarter million people. Now, those issues include the tumultuous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, complaints about coronavirus vaccine distribution in the developing world and disputes over climate change commitments and 5G technology.
Biden has placed a renewed emphasis on the group since taking office, arguing that collective action by the region’s democracies could prove more effective in countering China than the approach favored by former President Donald Trump, who traded antagonistic missives - and tariff hikes - with Beijing.
Biden held a virtual session with the Quad leaders in March, and senior U.S. officials who requested anonymity to preview Friday’s meeting described it as a chance for the leaders to show progress they’ve made while underscoring the president’s belief that the group can serve as a democratic bulwark in the region.
That’s expected to include a new announcement on vaccine production capacity in India, after Biden said Wednesday the partnership is on track to produce at least a billion doses in the country next year.
The White House is also hoping to focus the talks Friday on climate change, amid growing concern that some of the world’s biggest polluters aren’t doing enough to improve their plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions before a November global summit in Scotland. Japan and India have been the top targets of U.S. diplomats seeking more aggressive commitments.
The countries are expected to announce specific steps designed to reduce pollution stemming from shipping networks, including an emphasis on decarbonizing ports. They’ll also look to coordinate efforts to crack down on illegal fishing in the region.
Other announcements appear more explicitly designed to shore up security vulnerabilities or explicitly counteract Chinese influence. Those include a supply chain initiative designed to map overall capacity for manufacturing of critical items like semiconductors, and a new effort to deploy 5G technology. The U.S. has warned other countries not to adopt next-generation cellular technology from China’s Huawei Technologies Co., warning it could pose a security risk, which Huawei denies.
The leaders are also expected to discuss how to bolster critical infrastructure to make it more resilient to ransomware after a renewed spate of cyberattacks. Earlier this week, a Russian-linked hacker sought a multimillion dollar ransom from an Iowa grain cooperative in the latest instance of an American company becoming a target.
In addition to the group meeting, Biden plans to meet seperately with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier Friday in the Oval Office. The leaders are expected to discuss Afghanistan in addition to climate change and pandemic efforts.
Later, the president and first lady Jill Biden will spend time with outgoing Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. While officials described that gathering as a chance for the Bidens to express their appreciation for Suga’s partnership - and hospitality during the first lady’s trip to Tokyo as part of the U.S. Olympic delegation - the Japanese leader has also informed the White House he’s eager to discuss Chinese efforts to join a successor deal to the Trans Pacific Partnership, which Trump withdrew from in 2017.
Beijing’s application to join the trade partnership, which was originally envisoned as a way to contain China, came earlier this week after the U.S., U.K. and Australia announced a new security pact and submarine contract. China responded angrily to that agreement, calling it a threat to regional security.
The so-called Aukus pact also created a rift with France, which saw a $66 billion deal to provide Australia conventional submarines voided in favor of a deal for American-made nuclear-powered ships. French officials assailed the secret negotiations that led to the deal.
The French ambassador to the U.S. was recalled to Paris to underscore his government’s displeasure, though he is now expected to return next week after a telephone call between Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday to smooth the waters. When Biden met with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier this week on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, neither leader mentioned the new pact during remarks to the media.
The U.S. officials speaking to reporters on Thursday emphasized that unlike Aukus, the Quad was not intended as a regional security organization. The announcements Friday are intended to enhance and work alongside other regional partnerships, they said.
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