US President Joe Biden was yesterday set to host the first in-person gathering of leaders of an Indo-Pacific alliance known as the “Quad,” as he wraps up a difficult week of diplomacy after facing no shortage of criticism from allies and adversaries.
The White House meeting with leaders from India, Japan and Australia gives Biden a chance to put the spotlight on a chief foreign policy goal: greater attention to the Pacific in light of what the US sees as China’s coercive economic practices and unsettling military maneuvering in the region.
The leaders are expected to announce a COVID-19 vaccine initiative, plans to bolster semiconductor supply chains and a program to bring graduate and doctoral students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields to US universities.
Before the summit, the Japanese and Indian governments welcomed a recent announcement that the US, as part of a new alliance with Britain and Australia, would equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines. That would allow Australia to conduct longer patrols and give it an edge on the Chinese navy.
Michael Green, who served as senior director for Asia at the National Security Council during former US president George W. Bush’s administration, said Japan and India welcome the US-UK-Australia alliance “because it will really for the next 50 years reset the trajectories in naval power in the Pacific and from the perspective of those countries stabilize things as China massively builds up its naval forces.”
However, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian (趙立堅) called it a reflection of “outdated Cold War zero-sum mentality and narrow-minded geopolitical perception” that would intensify a regional arms race.
Beijing has also sought to push the notion that creation of the alliance indicates the US would favor Australia in the Quad at the expense of Japan and India, said Bonny Lin, senior fellow for Asian security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
China has also tried to undercut the Quad as out of step with other nations in Southeast Asia and portrayed members of the Quad as “US pawns,” Lin said.
In addition to the Quad meeting, Biden was scheduled to meet separately with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is soon to step down from his post.
First lady Jill Biden, who spent time with Suga when she visited Japan for the Summer Olympic, was expected to join for part of the meeting.
Modi plans to bring up Afghanistan, said a person familiar with Modi’s agenda who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Modi was expected to raise objections to the Taliban’s effort to get recognition at the UN. The Indian government also has concerns about the influence it believes Pakistan’s intelligence service exerted in how factions of the Taliban divvied up government offices in Kabul.
When the Taliban previously controlled Afghanistan, the group supported militants in Kashmir, a long disputed territory at the center of wars and skirmishes between India and Pakistan. The Haqqani network was behind two suicide bombings of India’s embassy in 2008 and 2009. Members of the network, which the US has designated a terrorist organization, have been given top positions in the Taliban government.
Suga was expected to discuss China, North Korea, Afghanistan, the COVID-19 response and climate change, said a Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs official who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
North Korea last week said it successfully launched ballistic missiles from a train for the first time, striking a target in the sea about 800km away.
That test came after the North this month said it tested new cruise missiles, which it intends to make nuclear-capable, that can strike targets 1,500km away, a distance putting all of Japan and US military installations there within reach.
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