TOKYO -- Japan will call for the first in-person meeting of Quad leaders to be held on the sidelines of the Group of Seven summit in the U.K. in June, as the group pursues greater cooperation to counter China's growing clout in the Indo-Pacific, Nikkei has learned.
The Quad, short for the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, consists of the U.S., Japan, India and Australia. While the grouping dates back more than 15 years, the leaders held a virtual summit for the first time last month and have yet to formally meet in person.
While India and Australia are not members of the G-7, the countries, along with South Korea, were invited by the U.K. to attend the summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, as special guests, making the June 11-13 event a convenient backdrop for a Quad meeting as well.
To lay the groundwork for the summit, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga aims to visit Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi after returning from his trip to the U.S. in mid-April to discuss greater cooperation on maritime security and infrastructure development.
Quad leaders had agreed to "meet challenges to the rules-based maritime order in the East and South China seas" in their first summit. They did not explicitly name China in their joint statement.
The leaders also said they would hold an in-person summit by the end of the year.
Quad leaders are expected to discuss specific efforts toward distributing coronavirus vaccines in developing countries, as well as cooperation on cutting-edge technology and climate change. The four countries are wary of China's "vaccine diplomacy" and efforts to build up its own supply chains.
India has traditionally been careful to maintain a balance between China and the West, and is hesitant to join overt efforts to counter China. Suga hopes that by meeting Modi, he can bolster bilateral ties to smooth the way for a Quad summit in the near future.
The last time Japanese and Indian leaders met outside of an international meeting was in October 2018, when then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe invited Modi to Yamanashi Prefecture. Modi had said he wanted to invite Suga to India in a March call, and the countries are working on resuming regular meetings between their leaders.
Suga also plans to visit the Philippines on the same trip for his first in-person meeting with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. This will be Suga's third trip to a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, after his first overseas trip as prime minister to Vietnam and Indonesia.
Duterte had put maritime disputes with China on the back burner to advance economic ties. But he has recently turned up the heat on China, in response to the large numbers of Chinese fishing boats entering the Philippine exclusive economic zone. Suga hopes to discuss shared concerns over China's maritime expansionism in his meeting with Duterte.
Vietnam and Indonesia are also mired in maritime disputes with China in the South China Sea. Vietnam in particular has faced repeated incursions into its waters by Chinese coast guard vessels, and has been one of the harshest critics of China within ASEAN. Suga appears to be wooing the three ASEAN members that have begun distancing themselves with China.
In addition to India and the Philippines, Suga is scheduled to visit Washington next week to meet U.S. President Joe Biden. The two sides are expected to issue a joint statement touching on the importance of stability in the Taiwan Strait, and will likely discuss greater cooperation with India, ASEAN and other actors on security and infrastructure.
Meanwhile, China is ramping up its own diplomatic efforts in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi toured six Middle Eastern countries including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Iran in late March. He also invited counterparts from Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore to a series of meetings. China is eager to build up its own diplomatic partnerships in response to the rise of the Quad, as well as other efforts by the U.S. to pressure Beijing.