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International relations

Quad group prepares 1st meeting of leaders to keep China in check

US, Japan, Australia and India to discuss cooperation for 'free and open Indo-Pacific'

A helicopter launches during flight operations aboard the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in the South China Sea.   © Reuters

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) -- The United States, Japan, Australia and India are working to arrange the first meeting of their leaders under the so-called Quad framework amid China's growing clout in the region, a source from one of the countries involved said.

The move comes as the new administration of U.S. President Joe Biden appears eager to build on renewed attention to the grouping of the four major Indo-Pacific democracies, with his National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan calling it "a foundation upon which to build substantial American policy in the Indo-Pacific."

According to the source, the United States has already proposed to other countries the idea of holding an online meeting of the Quad leaders.

Whether the talks will materialize soon is up to India, which is known for its relatively cautious stance on the framework. It is the only Quad member that shares a land border with China and operates outside of U.S.-led security alliances.

During the envisioned meeting, the participants are expected to discuss cooperation for the realization of a "free and open Indo-Pacific" amid concerns over China's maritime assertiveness in the region.

China may react with displeasure, as it sees the framework as an attempt to contain it.

Officially known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, the Quad originally arose in 2004 in response to the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.

After a period of hiatus, it was revived in 2017 and has since grown beyond humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, most recently focusing on efforts to advance "a free, open and inclusive" Indo-Pacific region, according to the U.S. State Department.

For the first time under the framework, the foreign ministers of the four countries met in New York in 2019. The second meeting was held in Tokyo in October last year in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

After the talks in October, then U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that his government hopes to "institutionalize" the Quad grouping, saying it has the capacity to "push back against the Chinese Communist Party."

Biden, who took office on Jan. 20, and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga agreed during their phone talks that they would promote the Quad grouping, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

Biden has also vowed to counter China's economic abuses and aggressive behavior by rebuilding alliances, though it is unclear how the Quad framework may evolve under his administration.

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