September 14, 2021 at 07:35 JST
President Joe Biden salutes before boarding Air Force One for a trip to visit the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, on Sept. 13 in Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (AP Photo)
WASHINGTON--U.S. President Joe Biden will host a first in-person summit of leaders of the "Quad" countries--Australia, India, Japan and the United States--which have been seeking to enhance cooperation to push back against China's growing assertiveness.
The summit will be held at the White House in Washington on Sept. 24, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. The U.S. visits of the prime ministers of Australia, India and Japan--Scott Morrison, Narendra Modi and Yoshihide Suga--will coincide with the United Nations General Assembly in New York, which Biden will address on Sept. 21.
A virtual meeting of the Quad leaders was held in March and they pledged to work closely on COVID-19 vaccines and climate and to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific in the face of challenges from Beijing.
"Hosting the leaders of the Quad demonstrates the Biden-Harris Administration’s priority of engaging in the Indo-Pacific, including through new multilateral configurations to meet the challenges of the 21st century," Psaki said.
Biden's Indo-Pacific coordinator, Kurt Campbell, said in July the long-planned in-person meeting should bring "decisive" commitments on vaccine diplomacy and infrastructure.
Biden, who is pushing big infrastructure spending at home, said in March he had suggested to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that democratic countries should have an infrastructure plan to rival China's massive Belt and Road Initiative, which involves projects from East Asia to Europe.
Psaki said the Quad Leaders would "be focused on deepening our ties and advancing practical cooperation on areas such as combating COVID-19, addressing the climate crisis, partnering on emerging technologies and cyberspace, and promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific."
A senior U.S. official said infrastructure would be among a range of topics discussed at the in-person summit.
The Quad meeting will come after Biden's image has taken a battering over the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. U.S. officials have said ending America's longest war will allow the administration to divert resources and attention to tackling China-related issues.
Senator Bill Hagerty, a Republican, and former U.S. ambassador to Japan, welcomed the plan to host the Quad leaders.
"Biden's Afghanistan withdrawal debacle made India's neighborhood more dangerous & raises legitimate questions for Japan and Australia as well, so it's good we will be hosting Quad partners soon," he said on Twitter.
"We must repair & renew our alliances, and this one is key."
The vaccines initiative from the first summit stalled after India, the world's largest vaccine producer, was hit by a catastrophic wave of infections and halted vaccine exports.
At the March summit, the four leaders agreed Indian drugmaker Biological E Ltd would produce at least a billion coronavirus vaccine doses by the end of 2022, mainly for Southeast Asian and Pacific countries.
Japan's news agency reported last week that Suga would visit Washington this month for the Quad meeting even though his term as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party - and by default as Japan's prime minister - ends on Sept. 30.
Suga became the first leader to hold a face-to-face White House summit with Biden in April, underscoring Japan's central role in U.S. efforts to face down China.
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