Tuesday, May 11, 2021

‘Everyone liked it a great deal,’ says Joe Biden on first Quad summit

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US President Joe Biden is expectedly pleased with the outcome of the historic first summit-level meeting of the Quad last Friday, one of his most significant foreign policy initiatives since taking office less than two months ago.

“It went very well,” Biden told reporters when asked how the Quad summit was. “Everyone seemed to like it a great deal.”

Biden and his counterparts – Prime Ministers Narendra Modi of India, Scott Morrison of Australia and Yoshihide Suga of Japan – made history by getting together virtually for the first summit of the four-nation grouping, which they have described as a “flexible group of like-minded partners”.

They also announced a major vaccine initiative to battle Covid-19 in Indo-Pacific countries facing acute shortage of vaccines; and set up working groups on coronavirus vaccines, climate and emerging technologies that clearly set up mechanisms for long-term and open-ended engagement. And they signed off on a joint statement and a factsheet.

The day after, they lent their bylines to a joint op-ed in The Washington Post portraying their partnership as a “spark of hope”.

They explained in detail what they did last Friday and what they intend to do going forward. They assured the rest of the world they are not an exclusive club and that they will “work with all of those who share” their goals, chiefly, a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Work began on the summit early February, according to people familiar with its planning and execution, and continued at a frenetic pace since even as their respective nations fought the deadly Covid-19 pandemic at home.

“These last few weeks were complete madness, and unending series of meetings and exchange of notes and documents,” said one of those involved.

Negotiations and discussion were conducted across three continents and multiple time zones – 7.51am in New Delhi, for instance, is 1.21pm in Canberra, 11.21am in Tokyo and 10.22 pm in Washington, DC.

The US had set high a high bar for the summit – and cleared it.

A senior Biden administration official who previewed the summit outcomes for reporters singled out the Vaccine Initiative for a glowing mention. He called it “historic deliverable… unprecedented… complex… deeply strategically significant, and… timely”.

India will use it vast pharma manufacturing capabilities to produce an estimated 1 billion does of Covid-19 vaccines by 2022-end under the initiative, which will be financed by the US and Japan. Australia will fund the last-mile distribution of the vaccines.

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