Biden, Indo-Pacific Allies to Increase Vaccine Supplies to Asian Countries

March 12, 2021 by Reece Nations
FILE - In this Jan. 21, 2021, file photo, employees pack boxes containing vials of COVID-19 vaccine at Serum Institute of India in Pune, India. Serum Institute of India has been contracted to manufacture a billion doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. President Joe Biden and fellow leaders of the Indo Pacific alliance known as “the Quad” will announce on Friday, March 12, a plan to expand coronavirus vaccine manufacturing capacity in India, according to administration officials. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool, File)

WASHINGTON — The Biden-Harris administration announced a plan Friday to ramp up novel coronavirus vaccine manufacturing capacity in India alongside leaders of the Indo-Pacific alliance called “the Quad.” 

President Biden announced the plan during a virtual summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan. These efforts are projected to allow Indian companies to increase manufacturing capacity for the region by 1 billion doses by 2022, according to administration officials. 

“A free and open Indo-Pacific is essential … the United States is committed to working with you, our partners, and all of our allies in the region to achieve stability,” Biden said in his opening remarks during the meeting. “This is a group particularly important because it is dedicated to the practical solutions and concrete results.” 

The move signals the administration’s desire to gain influence over the Indo-Pacific amid rising economic competition from China. Biden announced earlier this week that the U.S. had acquired an additional 100 million vaccine doses, but the president has faced pressure from some leaders of wealthy nations to donate a portion of its doses to poorer, less industrialized countries. 

In response, administration officials pointed out the United States has committed $4 billion to COVAX, a global initiative led by UNICEF, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and others, to distribute the vaccines to poor countries. 

“It is critical because the (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) also predicted that the United States economic growth … will be a key driver in global growth this year and our trade partners around the globe will benefit as a consequence,” Biden said. “To get this right we’ll have to focus on generating domestic demand and driving sustainable global growth.” 

Russia and China have also engaged in vaccine diplomacy by shipping doses to countries like Algeria, Tunisia and Guinea where they are desperately needed. Although his administration is committed to global vaccine distribution, Biden made it clear his priority is vaccinating Americans first. 

With the support from the leaders of Japan, India and Australia, the U.S. appears poised to stand up to China’s economic might under strained relations. It is likely not a coincidence that each country involved in the announcement has some form of a quarrel with Beijing. 

In the first days of his administration, Biden iterated his commitment to protecting the Senkaku Islands, a group of uninhabited islets controlled by Japan but claimed by China, according to the White House. Tens of thousands of Indian and Chinese soldiers have been involved in a nearly year-long standoff regarding a disputed border in the Kashmir region. 

Australia’s relations with China have been strained by ongoing trade disputes made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday that Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will directly raise U.S. concerns about Beijing’s treatment of the Uyghurs ethnic group to their Chinese counterparts, as well as actions against other ethnic minorities native to the Xinjiang region. 

“We’ve got a big agenda ahead of us gentlemen as you well know, but I’m optimistic about our prospects,” Biden said. “The Quad is going to be vital in our cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and I look forward to closely working with all of you in the coming years.” 

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