The leaders of Japan, the United States, Australia and India will hold a virtual meeting Friday in what will be the first summit among members of the Quad, with expectations for them to affirm cooperation in distributing COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries.
People familiar with the matter said Wednesday the leaders plan to announce financial support to boost production capacity for vaccines in India, seen as part of efforts to counter China's growing influence, which has been offering free shots to countries in Southeast Asia and Africa.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his counterparts will discuss issues including efforts to realize a free and open Indo-Pacific region, measures against COVID-19, and climate change, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a press conference.
Kato, the government's top spokesman, said the meeting was set at the request of U.S. President Joe Biden, whose administration has described dealing with China as "the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century."
"That President Biden has made this one of his earliest multilateral engagements speaks to the importance we place on close cooperation with our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a press conference Tuesday.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are also slated to participate in the meeting.
While China has expressed concerns over the Quad, portraying it as an Asian version of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization seeking to undermine its legitimate rise, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price stressed the collaboration is "not about any single competitor" or challenge.
The Quad, formally known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, originally arose in 2004 in response to the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. The framework has been revitalized in recent years, with increasing focus on advancing the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific and concepts such as freedom of navigation.
China is involved in a number of territorial disputes in the South and East China seas, including over the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands.
"This is an entity forged and formed because we share common interests," Price said. "Maritime security is, of course, an important one, but our shared interests go well beyond that."
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs said in a press release that the leaders will exchange views on areas of cooperation toward maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific while exploring opportunities for collaboration in ensuring safe, equitable and affordable COVID-19 vaccines in the region.
The summit will also provide an opportunity to exchange views on challenges regarding supply chains, emerging and critical technologies, maritime security and climate change, it said.
The announcement of the meeting comes after the foreign ministers of the four countries held a phone conference last month, the first such talks since Biden took office on Jan. 20.
During the call, the ministers agreed to "strongly" oppose unilateral and forceful attempts by China to alter the status quo in the East and South China seas, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.
They also discussed the situation in Myanmar following last month's military coup as well as other regional issues such as North Korea.