Quad makes its first big move: Joint vaccine push
The maiden Quad Summit on Friday unveiled an ambitious partnership to pool resources and capabilities of the four members to roll out a billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines by 2022, and created three working groups in the critical areas of new technologies and the climate crisis to give a formal structure to the group.
The virtual summit convened by US President Joe Biden and joined by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, reviewed common challenges across the Indo-Pacific – especially China’s assertive actions – and the Quad committed itself to promoting a free and open rules-based order to advance security and prosperity and to counter threats in the region and beyond.
For the Quad Vaccine Partnership, the countries agreed to pool their financial resources, manufacturing capacities and logistical strengths to ramp up the manufacture and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines across the Indo-Pacific.
“Our agenda today, covering areas like vaccines, climate change and emerging technologies, make the Quad a force for global good,” Prime Minister Modi said in his opening remarks. “I see this positive vision as an extension of India’s ancient philosophy of Vasudeva Kutumbhakum, which regards the world as one family,” he added.
“Today’s summit meeting shows that the Quad has come of age. It will now remain an important pillar of stability in the region,” he said, as the four countries came together for a summit just about 18 months after the Quad was upgraded to the level of foreign ministers.
The Quad leaders also agreed to hold an in-person meeting this year, either on the margins of the G7 Summit in UK in June or in one of the four countries, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity.
The Quad Summit was the first plurilateral engagement for Biden since he assumed office in January, and he said a free and open Indo-Pacific was essential to the future of all four countries. He added that the Quad was renewing its commitment to “ensure that our region is governed by international law, committed to upholding universal values and free from coercion”.
The US president was accompanied at the virtual summit by Vice-President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients.
“We’ve got a big agenda ahead of us gentlemen as you well know, but I’m optimistic about our prospects,” Biden said, adding, “The Quad is going to be vital in our cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and I look forward to looking closely to working with all of you in the coming years.”
Though none of the four leaders named China in their remarks, and foreign secretary Harsh Shringla played up the “positive agenda” focused on vaccines and climate change, the shadow of China’s assertive and aggressive actions hung large over the meeting and even played a key role in hastening plans for holding the summit, the people added.
India’s military standoff with China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) came up when the leaders discussed regional issues and the other members had a “sympathetic view” towards New Delhi on the matter, said one of the people cited above.
Shringla told a news briefing: “As far as India is concerned, we have always said the Quad does not stand against something, it stands for something...which is positive, it stands for doing something in the realm of consideration for others.”
All the leaders shared Modi’s vision of a world that looks after its people by pooling capabilities, he said. “That should put to rest any speculation about Quad’s activities directed against any states or others. Quad is an organisation that is working towards a very positive agenda,” he added.
The vaccine initiative will create additional manufacturing capacities in India and build on New Delhi’s Vaccine Maitri initiative that has already supplied close to 60 million doses to some 70 countries without affecting domestic production and rollout.
“President Biden has worked hard to bring these leaders together to make a clear statement of the importance of the Indo Pacific region,” a senior US official said, reasserting US/Biden ownership of the summit.
“I do believe that this (the vaccine initiative) is an historic deliverable. It’s unprecedented, it’s complex, it’s deeply strategically significant, and it is timely,” said another Biden administration official, adding, “it’s hard to do these things and the fact that the Quad has rallied and engaged deeply essentially around the clock, over the course of the last few weeks to do this in a manner which allowed the president to host the summit”.
Vaccines developed by the US will be manufactured in India, the world’s largest producer of vaccines, and financing will be provided by the US Development Finance Corporation (DFC), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Japan Bank of International Cooperation (JBIC) and others.
The DFC will work with India’s Biological E Ltd to finance increased capacity to support efforts to produce at least a billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines by the end of 2022 with Stringent Regulatory Authorization (SRA) and the WHO’s Emergency Use Listing (EUL), including the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Australia will contribute to overcome last mile and logistical delivery issues and also help countries in Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Islands receiving the vaccines, including financing worth $77 million for cold chains, training and building capacity for effective use of the doses. Japan will also help vaccination programmes of developing countries through a grant of $41 million and concessional loans.
The partnership will work with the COVAX facility, WHO, Gavi, Asean and G7 for vaccine distribution, Shringla said. The Quad believes this partnership will also create capabilities to prepare for any future pandemics, he said.
The Quad leaders agreed on creating three working groups that will for the first time give the loose grouping a more formal structure to deal with common challenges across the Indo-Pacific.
The Quad vaccine experts group, comprising top scientists and officials, will design an implementation plan for the vaccine partnership. The Quad climate working group will work to strengthen implementation of the Paris Agreement and strengthen climate actions globally for mitigation, adaptation, resilience, and climate finance. The Quad critical and emerging technology working group will facilitate cooperation on international standards and innovative future technologies, and their safe and judicious use.
The technology group will coordinate on standards development and cooperate on issues such as 5G, including telecommunications deployment, diversification of equipment suppliers and future telecommunications.
The Biden administration is touting the summit as another evidence of America reversing President Donald Trump’s America First approach that alienated allies and partners and won no favours with the country’s new and old rivals, China and Russia.