U.S. President Joe Biden will host the first-ever in-person "Quad" meeting with leaders from Japan, Australia and India on Sept. 24, the White House said Monday, indicating Washington's continuing focus on the region in the face of China's increasing clout.
During the upcoming meeting at the White House, the leaders, including outgoing Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, will seek to advance cooperation in such areas as combating the coronavirus pandemic.
They will also aim to partner on emerging technologies and cyberspace as well as promote a free and open Indo-Pacific, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Hosting the Quad leaders demonstrates the Biden administration's "priority of engaging in the Indo-Pacific, including through new multilateral configurations to meet the challenges of the 21st century," she said.
Psaki also said the administration has made "elevating the Quad a priority," as seen through the first-ever summit meeting in March, which took place virtually amid the pandemic.
In Tokyo, Japan's top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a press conference, "The Japanese government hopes there will be candid discussions among the leaders on common issues the region faces, including the promotion of the free and open Indo-Pacific and response to the novel coronavirus pandemic."
In the March discussion, Biden, Suga, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed to work toward delivering up to 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Southeast Asia and elsewhere by the end of 2022 through a substantial increase in production capacity in India.
The leaders also affirmed they are "united in a shared vision for the free and open Indo-Pacific," and will work together to "meet challenges to the rules-based maritime order" in the East and South China seas, where Beijing has been stepping up its territorial claims.
China is attempting to increase its clout through its so-called vaccine diplomacy, which involves offering shots to developing countries, as well as through its cross-border "Belt and Road" infrastructure initiative.
The Quad was originally formed in 2004 in response to the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. In recent years, the group has gained renewed attention as a counterweight to Beijing's growing assertiveness in the region.
During the previous U.S. administration under Donald Trump, the Quad held meetings at the foreign ministerial level. But the engagement has moved to the leaders' level under the Biden administration as it seeks to rally U.S. allies and like-minded countries to address the challenges posed by China.
The gathering on Sept. 24 will take place even though Suga has expressed his intention not to seek re-election as the leader of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party when it holds its presidential election on Sept. 29, meaning the party will choose his successor as prime minister.
Kato said although Suga is stepping down, it is important to strengthen relations with the other member countries at this time to ensure a smooth transition to the next premier.
According to Psaki, tackling the climate crisis will also be among the issues to be discussed by the leaders.
The gathering may also touch on Taiwan, which has been facing military and diplomatic pressure from China. Beijing regards the self-ruled democratic island as a renegade province awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.
Senior officials from the Quad countries discussed the importance of "peace and security" in the Taiwan Strait during a virtual meeting in August, according to the State Department.