White House Hosts Indo-Pacific Leaders as China Concerns Grow

September 24, 2021by Aamer Madhani, Associated Press
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks to Vice President Kamala Harris, Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, in Harris' ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Friday is set to host the first in-person gathering of leaders of an Indo-Pacific alliance known as “the Quad” as he wraps up a difficult week of diplomacy after facing no shortage of criticism from allies and adversaries.

The White House meeting with leaders from India, Japan and Australia gives Biden a chance to put the spotlight on a chief foreign policy goal: greater attention to the Pacific in light of what the United States sees as China’s coercive economic practices and unsettling military maneuvering in the region.

The leaders are expected to announce a coronavirus vaccine initiative, plans to bolster semiconductor supply chains and a program to bring graduate and doctoral students in STEM fields to U.S. universities.

Before the summit, the Japanese and Indian governments welcomed a recent announcement that the U.S., as part of a new alliance with Britain and Australia, would equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines. 

That will allow Australia to conduct longer patrols and give it an edge on the Chinese navy. But the announcement infuriated France, which accused the Biden administration of stabbing it in the back by squelching its own $66 billion deal to provide diesel-powered submarines. 

Tensions between Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron eased after the two leaders spoke Wednesday and agreed to take steps to coordinate more closely in the Indo-Pacific.

Michael Green, who served as senior director for Asia at the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration, said Japan and India welcome the United States-United Kingdom-Australian alliance “because it will really for the next 50 years reset the trajectories in naval power in the Pacific and from the perspective of those countries stabilize things as China massively builds up its naval forces.”

But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian called it a reflection of “outdated Cold War zero-sum mentality and narrow-minded geopolitical perception” that would intensify a regional arms race. 

Beijing has also sought to push the notion that creation of the alliance indicates the U.S. will favor Australia in the Quad at the expense of Japan and India, said Bonny Lin, senior fellow for Asian security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. 

China also has tried to undercut the Quad as out of step with other nations in Southeast Asia and portrayed members of the Quad as “U.S. pawns,” Lin said.

The White House meeting is playing out as China continues efforts to make a show of force in the region. 

On Thursday, China sent 24 fighter jets toward Taiwan  after Taiwan announced its intention to join a Pacific trade group, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. China has also applied for membership.

During his busy week of diplomacy, Biden addressed the U.N. General Assembly and hosted a virtual global summit on COVID-19. 

Biden and leaders of other wealthy nations faced criticism about the slow pace of global vaccinations and the inequity of access to shots between residents of wealthier and poorer nations. The pushback from leaders of low- and moderate-income countries came even as Biden announced plans for the U.S. to double to 1 billion doses its purchase of Pfizer vaccine to share with the world.

In addition to the Quad meeting, Biden is scheduled to meet separately with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is soon to step down from his post.

First lady Jill Biden, who spent time with Suga when she visited Japan for the Summer Olympic, is expected to join for part of the meeting. 

Modi plans to bring up Afghanistan, according to a person familiar with Modi’s agenda who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Modi is expected to raise objections to the Taliban’s effort to get recognition at the United Nations. The Indian government also has concerns about the influence it believes Pakistan’s intelligence service exerted in how factions of the Taliban divvied up government offices in Kabul.

When the Taliban previously controlled Afghanistan, the group supported militants in Kashmir, a long disputed territory at the center of wars and skirmishes between India and Pakistan. The Haqqani network was behind two suicide bombings of India’s embassy in 2008 and 2009. Members of the network, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization, have been given top positions in the Taliban government.

Suga is expected to discuss China, North Korea, Afghanistan, the COVID-19 response and climate change, according to a foreign ministry official who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity. 

North Korea last week said it successfully launched ballistic missiles from a train for the first time, striking a target in the sea some 800 kilometers (500 miles) away.

That test came after the North this month said it tested new cruise missiles, which it intends to make nuclear-capable, that can strike targets 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) away, a distance putting all of Japan and U.S. military installations there within reach.

___

Associated Press writer Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed reporting.

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