The 'Quad' meets in the White House as China looks warily on
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Leaders of the United States, Japan, India and Australia gathered on Friday for a summit expected to bring progress on COVID-19 vaccines, infrastructure and technological cooperation.
The first in-person meeting of the Quad, as the grouping of the four major democracies is called, is likely to be watched closely in Beijing, which criticized the group as "doomed to fail." U.S. President Joe Biden met first with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Oval Office, their first face-to-face meeting since Biden took power in January.
Modi told reporters the foundation has been set for a "transformative" relationship between the two countries.
Modi, who was once barred from travel to the United States after the massacre of hundreds of people, mostly Muslims, in the state where he was chief minister, also met with U.S. CEOs and will speak at the United Nations during his visit.
Biden, Modi, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison were to meet as a group at the White House in the afternoon. Biden will then meet separately with Suga after the Quad summit.
The group will announce several agreements aimed directly at China, including one to bolster supply chain security for semiconductors and to combat illegal fishing and boost maritime domain awareness, a senior U.S. official said. It will also roll out a 5G partnership and plans for monitoring climate change.
The meeting comes just over a week after the United States, Britain and Australia announced an AUKUS security pact under which Australia will be provided with nuclear-powered submarines, a move that has been roundly denounced by Beijing.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian appeared to criticize the group in a press briefing on Friday, saying "A closed, exclusive clique targeting other countries runs counter to the trend of the times and the aspirations of regional countries. It will find no support and is doomed to fail."
INDIA TO EXPORT VACCINES
The Quad will also announce next steps in plans to supply a billion COVID-19 shots across Asia by the end of 2022, an initiative agreed at a virtual Quad summit in March.
The effort stalled after India, the world's largest vaccine producer, banned exports in April amid a massive COVID outbreak at home.
India has said it is ready to restart vaccine exports in the October quarter, prioritizing the COVAX international vaccine initiative and neighboring countries. But it has also been seeking a waiver of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines and more access to raw materials.
"Obviously, there have been challenges in India over the course of the summer," the U.S. official said. "But... we believe that it will be important to meet the ambitions that we laid out at that time."
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris met with Modi on Thursday and welcomed India's decision to resume vaccine exports.
U.S. officials have sought to play down the security aspect of the Quad - even though its members carry out naval exercises together and share concerns about China's growing power and attempts to exert pressure on all four countries.
China has denounced the Quad as a Cold War construct and says the AUKUS alliance would intensify an arms race in the region.
Suga, who is stepping down as Japan's leader, wants to discuss with Biden "recent efforts by countries to potentially join CPTPP," the U.S. official said, referring to China, which recently announced its desire to join the regional trade pact.
(Reporting by Michael Martina, David Brunnstrom, Steve Holland and Nandita Bose; Editing by Michael Perry and Dan Grebler)
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