Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials Previewing the Quad Leaders Summit and Bilateral Meeting with India
(September 23, 2021)
5:47 P.M. EDT
MODERATOR: Thanks a lot, Grace. And thanks, everyone, for joining us this evening.
Just to set us off with some ground rules, this call is on background, attributed to “senior administration officials.” And the contents of this call are embargoed until Friday, September 24th, at 6:00 a.m. And by joining this call, you are hereby agreeing to these ground rules.
In terms of the topic, the briefing is to preview the Quad Leaders Summit tomorrow, as well as President Biden’s bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Modi of India.
For your awareness, our briefers today are [senior administration officials]. Here on out, they will be referred to as “senior administration officials.”
With that, I will turn it over to [senior administration official] to start us off on the bilat for tomorrow.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. Thanks very much. So, President Biden is looking forward to his separate bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Modi in the Oval Office on Friday morning ahead of the Quad summit.
President Biden has spoken with Prime Minister Modi on the phone a number of times and has been in virtual summits, but this is their first in-person meeting and will cover a number of priority issues that India is really front and center of, including pandemic response, their response to climate change. Will talk about technology issues, economic cooperation and trade, as well as Afghanistan and new areas of cooperation that both governments have been discussing.
So, I’ll just give you — I’ll end with that overview and turn it over to talk about the Quad.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you, [senior administration official]. And thanks, [senior administration official]. And thanks to all for joining today. And we look forward to questions.
So, just very quickly, the President — the bilateral meeting will be in the morning with Prime Minister Modi. In the afternoon, the President will welcome Prime Minister Modi, Prime Minister Morrison, and Prime Minister Suga to the White House for the first-ever Quad in-person meeting.
As you may recall, at the outset of the administration, the President indicated that he wanted to take this institution — that’s an informal gathering of leading democracies in the Indo-Pacific — and basically lift it both to the leader level and to ensure that we are working together to build better lines of communication and strengthening cooperation and habits of cooperation amongst us.
So, we had our virtual Quad summit in March, in which the leaders agreed to take consequential steps on a variety of issues, most purposefully the commitment to deliver a billion doses by the end of 2022 to Southeast Asia, with investments in Indian vaccine capacity. And we will have detailed updates on efforts to meet that goal and specific down payments for later this year. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow.
It is also the case that I think the leaders are hopeful for an opportunity in an intimate setting to sit down and talk about issues of mutual interest and concern. They’ll have discussions, as [senior administration official] indicated, on critical issues that are confronting the Indo-Pacific — issues associated with climate change, with matters relating to COVID.
They’ll also talk about hopes for how to advance infrastructure. I think the Quad has been all about advancing areas of mutual interest, cyber related. We will be announcing new working groups on space. We will also announce a major fellowship that will bring students from India, from Japan, from Australia, and the United States — a hundred in total — over the course of the next year and a half to study in elite universities in the United States, in areas related to science and technology, as a clear signal of the importance of these issues to all of our countries’ futures.
I think you will also see that the leaders are determined to pool our unique capabilities, our resources, and our expertise to make common challenges.
I do want to underscore that the Quad is an unofficial gathering, although we have a number of working groups and we are deepening cooperation on a very daily basis. It is also the case that it is not a regional security organization. We are going to address particular issues associated with the challenges confronting the Indo-Pacific in the current environment. And I think that’s what the leaders want to focus on tomorrow.
I think it’s also the case that, you know, I think President Biden believes that too oftentimes, these kinds of discussions are scripted, and he really wants to be able to sit down and have a deeper conversation with all leaders in an environment where they can really share perspectives on what’s important to each of them as they go forward.
I don’t want to go on too long, but I do want to just underscore a critical point. I think all of you will have seen or heard the President’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly earlier this week when he underscored that, you know, we are coming out of a period of really long and consequential conflicts, and we are now doubling down on diplomacy.
And what we are seeing is this is a clear and emblematic indication of that strategy. It also indicates that the Biden administration understands that the challenges of the 21st century will largely play out in the Indo-Pacific, and we are doubling down on our efforts.
This Quad is part of a larger fabric of engagement that you will see — that you’ve already seen evidence of with very high-level bilateral engagements with security partners, other steps that we’ve taken. And we believe that the Quad will be a key and critical format and forum for discussion and joint purpose as we head into a challenging period ahead.
So, all the leaders have arrived, and we’re very much looking forward to the discussion tomorrow.
I think what I would recommend is we take some questions, and then I can go through a few of the deliverables as we go forward. Does that make sense?
MODERATOR: Sounds good. We can open it up for questions, and Grace can give us instructions, please.
Q Hey, guys, thanks for doing this call. And I guess I am interested in some of those deliverables, especially as Bloomberg. On the economic front, I know that there was talk during that virtual meeting of working together on semiconductors. So I’m wondering if there’s deliverables on that front, but more broadly, what we can look forward to being announced tomorrow.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. Well, let me just say: On semiconductors, we will be announcing a supply chain initiative, and the effort is really a detailed joint initiative to map overall capacity; identify, you know, respective vulnerabilities; and to take critical steps to bolster supply chain security, particularly for semiconductors and all their vital components.
I think the goal is to help ensure Quad partners help take their steps to support at least a somewhat diverse and competitive market that produces secure, critical technologies that are essential for digital economies globally.
We’re also going to announce a 5G deployment and diversification effort. And this is to support the critical role of Quad governments in fostering and promoting a diverse, resilient, secure telecommunications ecosystem. And we’re launching an effort — sort of a 1.5 industry dialogue — on Open RAN development and adoption. So this is actually a quite well-articulated game plan about how the four countries will work together.
I’ve already talked a little bit about the Quad fellowship. This fellowship is sponsored by private donors. We will bring 100 students per year — 25 from each Quad country — to pursue either a master’s or doctoral degree at a leading STEM graduate university in the United States. I think that’s a big deal for us, and that’s a signature initiative designed to indicate that we want and encourage Quad countries to send their best students to work with us and to build those lines of communication and coordination with young people.
We’ll have an initiative on space. I think all four countries are determined to work on joint efforts.
We’re going to share information on illegal fishing, on issues associated with maritime domain awareness.
And, you know, we’ll also take steps to help monitor climate change and promote a variety of issues associated with estuaries and fisheries — fishing more generally.
We have a robust cybersecurity effort underway with the State Department that’s going to be enhanced at the leader level. We’re going to try to take steps to bolster critical infrastructure resilience against cyber threats — something that’s plagued all four of our countries. And we are advancing a very high-level group on specific capabilities and technologies.
We’ve got, you know, some specific steps that we’re taking in climate: green shipping network. And this has to do with how to decarbonize what we call the shipping value chain. And we’re also taking specific steps to work with ports in each of our countries to ensure that best practices are followed with respect to decarbonizing efforts there as well.
I think we have a few things on infrastructure and health that we’re going to wait until tomorrow. And obviously, the vaccine deliverable will be rolled out tomorrow afternoon.
Q Yes, thank you very much. I wanted to know why this call is only a background — is only a preview call with — on the bilat with Modi and not on the bilat with PM Suga as well.
And then, PM Suga won’t seek reelection, effectively announcing his resignation. Will the return to the constant change of prime ministers impact the Quad in any way? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, no, we’ve already given a short readout on the meeting tomorrow. I’m happy to give you some more information.
First of all, the President was very grateful that Prime Minister Suga agreed to join this — what we think is a critical in-person Quad summit. The President will meet Prime Minister Suga tomorrow in the White House. He will be joined for part of that meeting by Dr. Jill Biden, who is returning early from a trip. I think very much he wants to — she was hosted by Prime Minister Suga, very graciously, when she represented the United States in the Opening Ceremonies. And it is her desire to join President Biden in doing several things.
First, I think we want a serious conversation. Prime Minister Suga has some issues that he’d like to discuss, including recent efforts by countries to potentially join CPTPP. And I think he’d like to discuss that with the President. And the President is interested to hear Japanese perspectives on next steps associated with economic engagement in Asia.
I think it is also the case that, in addition to substantive discussion, the President wants to thank Prime Minister Suga for being a terrific partner. As you know, he was the first official visitor to the White House when President Biden invited leaders. He has worked closely with Japan in every endeavor, and we — I think what the President wants to indicate is that he’s grateful for Prime Minister Suga’s leadership and will promise to continue to work with whoever is elected as his successor.
So, you know, I think the President views this meeting as having a couple of purposes. One is, obviously, to have a discussion also about COVID — the situation in Japan and the way forward — but just as importantly, the President is — you know, he is a deeply human, sentimental person, and I think it’s important to him to say to Prime Minister Suga directly how important that engagement with him has been.
And, frankly, you know, the fact that the First Lady is coming back to meet with the Prime Minister, I think, speaks volumes.
Does that — does that answer your question?
MODERATOR: I think his line might be removed. So we can go to the next question.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That’s all right. Thank you.
Q Yes. Hi. Thank you so much for doing this call. Could you speak a little bit about the Quad relative to AUKUS? And do you expect leaders to discuss AUKUS at the summit tomorrow?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, look, I think it’s important to underscore these are two completely separate initiatives. They really have nothing to do with one another, even though there is some overlap with Australia, obviously.
The Quad is a discussion and engagement effort around a number of practical matters, like — we’ve discussed COVID and issues associated with climate change. There is not a military dimension to it or security dimension to it. And it is an informal grouping.
And the AUKUS, obviously, has been underscored and discussed in other venues. I won’t go through those details here.
I would expect that the discussions tomorrow will be wide ranging. A number of issues will come up. This is relatively recent, so I would imagine that leaders will be discussing a number of recent developments.
I think we’ve purposely given the leaders some indication of issues that we think they should discuss, but at the same time, there will be a lot of, you know, improvisation and opportunities to talk on what is on particular leaders’ minds.
Q Hi. Thank you so much for doing this call. Maybe a quick question. As you know, there are some countries in the region that are a bit suspicious of this Quad initiative; they see it as too aggressive against China. In particular, how do you think the Quad can articulate who is ASEAN? Will the two formats be in a competition? How will that work in the future?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So I think all Quad leaders are united in a strong belief that the Quad is meant to be complementary to existing institutions. We understand all the importance of ASEAN. You will note that many of our initiatives are designed to support efforts across ASEAN, including our vaccine efforts.
I think you will hear, tomorrow, the leaders each talking about the importance to remain open about all the things that we’re working on and to be quite clear about what things that we’re not engaged in. As I’ve indicated, this is not a military alliance. It’s an informal grouping of democratic states that are all committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific.
I think over time, I think concerns have been dispelled. And I believe at a general level, this initiative is welcome across the region.
Q Thank you for doing the call this afternoon. One of the things that came up during the COVID summit at the White House and virtually the other day on the sidelines of the U.N. meetings was Prime Minister Modi mentioned the ongoing desire of India for the TRIPS waiver and for more access to be able to manufacture vaccines.
I know that’s not obviously — it’s a decision the U.S. would support. I know that’s the stated position of President Biden. But is there anything more on that front that either will be announced or that the U.S. may be able to do to put pressure on?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, I apologize, but, by agreement with all four countries, the specific issues associated with what India is going to commit to do and our specific deliverables with respect to vaccines will be unveiled tomorrow at the Quad summit.
So, I don’t really have anything further to say, but I agree that the issues that you laid out will be part of what we will discuss and advance.
Q Yeah. Hi, this is Andrea with NHK. Thank you so much for taking my question. I wanted to see if you could share any details on the timing of tomorrow’s meetings. I know you said in the afternoon, but I’m wondering specifically about the length of the Quad summit and why that specific length will be chosen, given that it is four leaders meeting.
And then, additionally, you mentioned that the President is — will be hearing the Japanese Prime Minister’s perspective on TPP and econ engagement. Can you share some of President Biden’s current thoughts on the applications from Taiwan and China to enter the partnership? And what exactly does he want? And what exactly does he hope to hear from the Prime Minister Suga? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks. I can give you some general sense. It’s — normally, we don’t really go into great details about exact times. I expect that the dialogue among the four leaders will take a good part of the afternoon tomorrow. There will be time for a bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Suga and the President and, as I indicated, with Dr. Biden.
Those sessions, frankly, are designed to be free flowing. I think the President has indicated that he doesn’t want to necessarily put an artificial stop to them. I think he wants to let them, you know, have sort of a natural progression.
After the meeting with President Biden, the Quad members will meet with Vice President Harris for a detailed discussion on basically the capacities associated with resilience in each of our countries and compare notes on what we think is important as democracies go forward.
So, these will be substantial engagements. And we’ve worked closely with our Quad friends on all the issues associated with the various details more generally.
I think more than anything else, I think the President is interested to hear from Prime Minister Suga his views on Indo-Pacific developments. I think he’s interested to hear exactly where he thinks Japan is going and his recommendations for the United States’ continuing engagement in the region, both in terms of specific diplomacy, infrastructure, economics, and trade as well.
Q Thanks very much. The Malabar exercises went forward, including all of the Quad members, and I wondered if at any point that might expand to infantry exercises, especially given India’s concern about China’s encroachment on what it considers its side of the border in Ladakh and other parts of its northern border.
I’d also just like to hear why you think the Chinese forces are doing that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: [Senior administration official], why don’t you start, and I can jump in later? If you would, please, [senior administration official]. Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. So, the Malabar exercise — you know, it’s a great area of cooperation — has expanded in recent years, regularized, and as you say, it includes all four countries. I’m not aware of any current discussion to go to infantry.
But the point is, I think as [senior administration official] laid out at the top, developing these habits of cooperation and increasing just sort of communication and thinking about different areas of interoperability is quite important.
[Senior administration official], do you want to take the second question?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. I wonder if she could repeat it again. So is this the question about why — what do you think China is thinking? I didn’t quite get that. And maybe you could repeat it. Thank you.
Q What do you think the motivation is behind China’s encroachment on India’s northern border and other borders in the region?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah.
Q What is driving them? Because Indian officials I speak to are like, “We really don’t know what they’re trying to get at here, other than making a point.”
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, look, I do want to just say that the — you know, that our conversation today really is about the Quad.
In other conversations we’ve talked, we have seen actions by China that has ramped up tensions with neighbors. It’s not unique to India; we’ve seen it in other circumstances as well and — with Australia, with the South China Sea. And we’ve seen an increase in wolf warrior diplomacy in Europe.
And so, it’s difficult to tell exactly what the motivation is, but I can assure you that Indian friends are very clear-eyed about both their desire to make sure that they are working closely with — in communication with China to try to avert these sorts of difficulties, but also remaining resolute as well.
Q Thank you.
MODERATOR: All right, folks, thanks so much. I think that has to be our last question. But thank you for joining us.
And as a reminder on the ground rules: Today’s call is on background as “senior ministration officials.” And it’s embargoed until tomorrow, Friday, 6:00 a.m. Eastern time. Thank you.
6:14 P.M. EDT