US and Asian allies plan Covid vaccination strategy to counter China

The United States is working with Japan, India and Australia to develop a plan to distribute Covid-19 vaccines to countries in Asia as part of a broader strategy to counter China’s influence .

The White House has had discussions with other members of the Quad, a diplomatic and security initiative between the countries, in recent weeks, according to six people familiar with the talks.

The effort to use vaccine distribution to counteract Chinese efforts is part of a series of measures that countries hope to announce soon, according to two people familiar with the situation.

President Joe Biden said he will work more closely with his allies and that his efforts have been aided by growing regional concerns over China’s military and economic aggression.

“The Biden administration makes the Quad the heart of its Asian policy dynamic,” said a person familiar with the strategy.

Kurt Campbell, the White House Indo-Pacific policy coordinator leading the effort, has held several meetings with ambassadors for the group, which was originally launched in 2004 to respond to the tsunami that devastated Indonesia and some parts of Southeast Asia. .

A person familiar with the discussions said the strategy being developed is more ambitious than vaccines and will have a lasting impact. “The United States is in the final stages of preparing for what it hopes will be a major and bold initiative in the Indo-Pacific,” the person said.

There was a “deep recognition” of the need to respond to pan-national issues, the person added, such as the pandemic and climate change, as well as regional security concerns. The Quad discusses how it can boost maritime cooperation and do more in areas such as cybersecurity.

China has criticized the grouping, describing it as an Asian “Nato” which would trigger heightened tensions in the region.

China has distributed its local vaccines to a number of countries in the region, including the Philippines © Rolex Dela Pena / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock

The quadrilateral countries present their efforts as positive initiatives, as opposed to a pure counterweight to China. Privately, however, officials said the impetus to do more was based on the rise in Chinese aggression.

Tanvi Madan, an Indian expert at the Brookings Institution think tank, said the focus on vaccines would alleviate fears among other Asian states that the Quad was on the verge of containing China.

“If they can show the value for the region, like they did after the tsunami, it is a visible way to show that it is not just the four countries and that it is an added value. for the region, ”she said.

Donald Trump, the former US president, relaunched the Quad after expiring partly for political reasons in Australia, Japan and India. Biden wants to strengthen the initiative considerably, harnessing greater goodwill towards the United States on the part of allies in the region.

“The United States is making a major effort to build on the Quad’s previous efforts and bring it to a level where it will play a pivotal role in the region,” said the person familiar with the negotiations.

Biden has made it clear that China is the main US foreign policy problem. In a recent speech, he attacked Beijing for its “economic abuse and coercion” and its administration criticized its military aggressiveness.

China has asserted itself more around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea which are administered by Japan but claimed by Beijing, which calls them the Diaoyu. He has also engaged in economic coercion with Australia, after Canberra called for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.

Relations between India and China fell last year after a border shock in which 21 Indian soldiers and at least 4 Chinese soldiers died. India has since tried to reduce its economic dependence on China.

The White House has not commented on the plan. A senior Indian official has confirmed that talks are underway over an initiative that should see richer states pay for vaccines made in the country to be shipped overseas.

India has a large export-oriented pharmaceutical industry and several local companies have partnered with foreign organizations to produce vaccines. The country exported around 41 million doses of the vaccine to emerging markets as well as to the UN and the Covax program, an initiative supported by the World Health Organization to provide vaccines to low and middle income countries.

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