Biden launches anti-China offensive at summit with Pacific allies

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WASHINGTON | Joe Biden launched Friday, at a virtual summit with the Prime Ministers of Australia, India and Japan, a joint initiative to “drastically” boost the production of COVID-19 vaccines in Southeast Asia, the first step of its diplomatic offensive against China.

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It is the first time that the “Quad”, this informal alliance born in the 2000s to counterbalance the rise in power of China and revived by Donald Trump, meets at the highest level.

“It is also the first multilateral summit that I have the chance to organize as president”, said Joe Biden at the opening of the videoconference with the Japanese Yoshihide Suga, the Indian Narendra Modi and the Australian Scott Morrison.

“The United States is determined to work with all our regional allies to ensure stability,” he said.

Another sign of the priority given to Asia, the Japanese Prime Minister will be, in April, the first foreign leader to be received in person in the United States by the new president, announced Friday the two countries.

On the agenda of the “Quad”: climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“New era”

“We are launching an ambitious new partnership to boost vaccine production for the benefit of the whole world, including vaccinations throughout the Indo-Pacific region,” said Joe Biden.

It is a question of responding to “the serious shortages in South-East Asia”, explained to journalists a senior American official, evoking “complex financial vehicles which will allow a very important increase, frankly drastic, of the capacities of production of vaccines , up to a billion in 2022 ”.

This effort will be based primarily on production in India, and on the American single-dose vaccine Johnson & Johnson.

With this initiative, the American president in turn engages in “vaccine diplomacy”. If he has so far assured that he intended to reserve the vaccines bought by Washington for the Americans first, he wants to show that he does not stand idly by against China, which is increasing the delivery of doses across the country. world and especially in South-East Asia.

Because the other object of this summit, and one of the raison d’être of the “Quad”, is to contain Chinese activism in the region.

None of the four leaders has openly cited China, but in diplomatic jargon, this translates into discussions of “maritime security” and the maintenance of a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region.

“We renew our commitment to ensure that our region is governed by international law, upholds universal values ​​and is free from all coercion”, hammered Joe Biden in a clear allusion to the intimidation of Beijing, especially in the China Sea. southern.

Scott Morrison considered that this meeting of four “democracies” symbolized “the dawn of a new era” for the region, when Narendra Modi assured that the Quad would remain “an important pillar for stability”.

USA-China meeting

Former President Trump left Sino-US relations at their lowest since their inception in the 1970s, on the brink of a new Cold War.

His successor says he wants to continue the showdown.

“If we do nothing, they will crush us,” said Joe Biden in February after his first telephone exchange with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

There is therefore a Trump-Biden continuity on the “strategic competition” with the Asian giant, described as “the greatest threat to democracy” by the former Republican government and “the greatest geopolitical challenge of the twenty-first century” by the current Democratic team.

But the latter claims to want to distinguish itself by relying on the alliances of the United States, neglected or abused by Donald Trump, to display a united front against Beijing.

After the “Quad” meeting, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Minister Lloyd Austin will travel to Japan and South Korea next week for their first trip abroad.

The Pentagon chief will also travel to India, while Antony Blinken will host the first-ever meeting between Team Biden and Chinese foreign ministers Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi on Thursday. These talks in Alaska will be closely watched.