Joe Biden

Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials Previewing President Biden's Final Day in Japan

May 23, 2022

Via Teleconference

8:24 A.M. JST

MODERATOR: Good morning, everybody. Thanks so much for joining us. And apologies for the delay. As we said in the invite, this call is on background, attributable to senior administration officials and embargoed until the call concludes.

Not for reporting but just for your knowledge, joining us again is [senior administration official]. I'm going to turn it over to [senior administration official].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you very much. And thank you all for joining. I'd like to give a very quick preview of today's Quad meetings, and then I'll be happy to take some questions.

I think as you all know, one of the very early decisions that the President made upon coming to office was to elevate the Quad to the leader level for the first time. And I'd note that the Quad meeting, which was virtual, given the pandemic at the time -- or the situation -- the pandemic situation at the time -- was in March of 2021 -- it was -- and at that meeting, the leaders committed that they would meet in person, which they did, in September of 2021, at the White House, hosted by the President.

And then they had another virtual meeting in early March, and then they had -- are obviously meeting today in Tokyo for the second in-person meeting. And I think that it's significant because this is an extraordinary trajectory and one that really reflects, I think, the administration's focus on the region and its vision of how we can bring likeminded partners, likeminded democracies to work together to deal with common challenges and issues.

I think what's also very impressive is that in the space of, you know, 15 months, the Quad has become, essentially, an increasing cornerstone for -- or fixtures -- develop- -- I'd say it's developing into a cornerstone, and certainly it's a fixture in regional -- the regional order.

And then I think that it reflects a commitment pile for countries to work together. It reflects also a sense that -- you know, the goal here is not to create a lot of formal structures. The goal is to find ways to work together on issues that are of interest to the region and to try and really, in many ways, bring public goods to the region by harnessing the activities of all four countries, which are quite significant, to be able to address issues that matter across the Indo-Pacific.

I don't want to get ahead of the conversations with leaders, but I think we can preview some of the work that we expect to be announced. I think that at the Tokyo summit, the Quad leaders will welcome a major initiative on maritime domain awareness. And we expect it to be called the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness.

In close consultation with regional partners, what we're referring to is the IPMDA. And you know how government loves acronyms. IPMDA will offer a new real-time, integrated cost-effective maritime domain awareness picture.

And we believe that this addresses a real need and something that the administration has heard a true demand signal from almost across the region, be it from Southeast Asia, be it in the Pacific, be it in South Asia, which is for much better maritime domain awareness. The ability to know what is happening in countries' territorial waters and in their exclusive economic zones.

And so the idea is the Quad partners will cooperate to help deliver this kind of capability across the region. And I think that, you know, we expect that this will integrate three critical regions -- as I said, the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean region -- in the Indo-Pacific. And this will allow the tracking of dark shipping and other tactical-level activities, such as rendezvous at sea, as well as improves partners' ability to respond to climate and humanitarian events, and to protect their fisheries, which are vital to so many Indo-Pacific economies.

And the IPDMA [IPMDA] will do this by harnessing a combination of automatic identification system radiofrequency technologies.

The Quad partners will be able to bring all these together into an unprecedented common thread of activities, and the data will be unclassified, so -- which will allow the Quad to provide it to a wide range of partners who wish to benefit. And it recognizes that the primary demand on this in many ways is not from militaries, it is for -- for the equivalent of Coast Guards to be able to do both rescue at sea, to be able to monitor fishing, to be able to track illegal fishing.

And so I think that, you know, the way this will work is that there'll be support for this information sharing across existing regional fusion centers, including in the different regions.

And I think that we are very -- we're very happy about the fact that there is a real demand, and we think that this will address it. And we look forward to continuing to work very closely with our partners, both in the Quad and across the region, to deliver a capability which we think will be very important to countries and really give them the tools they need to better maintain their sovereignty, better ensure -- or better combat illegal fishing, and better be able to do rescue at sea and other humanitarian activities.

The Quad leaders will also announce the opening of applications for the Quad fellowship, which will sponsor 100 American, Australian, Indian, and Japanese students to study in the United States each year for graduate degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.

And then, in terms of COVID, there will be a discussion -- and I think you should expect some announcements with regard to COVID-19 boosters and (inaudible) pediatric doses for countries in the greatest need, and obviously including in the Indo-Pacific.

I think you'll also see the Quad leaders announce a range of initiatives in the climate space, critical technologies, and cyber. And we'll have more for you on that later today.

And then I would note that there will be, I think, some discussions about issues of common interest to the Quad partners and to the leaders. And I think that they -- if, you know, the past has taught us -- they will have very direct, very candid conversations. I think that we've all been impressed at how comfortable the leaders are with each other and how comfortable they are having very, very serious conversations.

I would note that there will be one significant development, which is there will be a new Australian leader. And we're delighted that Prime Minister Albanese was sworn in yesterday and then almost immediately went -- got on an airplane to come to Tokyo to participate in these meetings. As many of you saw, he mentioned in his acceptance speech about how he would be doing this.

And I think it's also very significant that former Prime Minister Scott Morrison mentioned in his concession speech the importance of conceding so that there would be a new prime minister who will be able to come represent Australia at the Quad.

And I think that that really highlights the bipartisan support in Australia, as I think there is throughout the region -- or throughout the Quad partners for the Quad -- and, I think, a recognition of how quickly it has become a very critical element in each country's foreign policy.

In that vein, I would note that the President will have bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Modi of India and Prime Minister Albanese, and that will be his first meeting.

I'm sure many of you are aware the President called him on the flight from Seoul to Tokyo, and they had a good conversation.

We'll have more on those meetings as they happen.

And with that, I will take your questions.

MODERATOR: Thanks so much, everybody. Our speaker does have a little bit of a hard out, so we're not going to be able to get through as many questions but we're happy to try and take a couple.

First, why don't we go to Esther Oh with NHK.

Q: Hi. Thank you so much for taking my question. Does the President think that with India not being on board when it comes to condemning Russia, that it undermines the purpose of the Quad? Is he going to be having any discussions with Prime Minister Modi about the U.S. doing more for India so that India can diversify its military acquisition and oil imports so that it's less dependent on Russia?

And my second question is: I know that the administration has said that there are no plans as of now to expand Quad membership. But why not take advantage of the situation and extend an invitation to likeminded allies in the region?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, thank you. And those are obviously both very topical questions.

I'll start off with the second one. I think that there is a recognition on the part of the Quad members and certainly the United States that there is interest, and growing interest, in the region, in the Quad.

I think that the decision for the time being is that the Quad needs to build and reinforce itself and that the leaders, I think, are -- have the common view that before thinking about possible expansion -- and I would stress no decision has been made either way -- the Quad needs to reinforce its ability to function.

And I would stress again: This is an ad hoc grouping. It doesn't have letterhead. There's no central secretariat or, you know, headquarters. This is four likeminded partners who work together. There's an increasing array of working groups. And I think that the idea is to get those working well before thinking about what the next steps might be -- and that's to say without prejudging at all what those next steps are.

So, I think that that's something that the leaders are very aware of -- the strong interest -- and that there is going to be continued thinking about it as the Quad is able to reinforce itself, develop itself, and continue to be effective and hopefully become more effective going forward.

With regard to your questions about the discussions with the Prime Minister of India, I think that the President is very aware that countries have their own histories, they have their own interests, they have their own outlooks. And the idea is to build on the commonalities.

Inevitably -- and I think it's true, with all the members of the Quad, there are some differences -- the question is how they become -- how they're addressed and how they're managed.

And I think the President is very much of the view that the way to do this is to have candid and direct conversations of the kind that really can only happen when leaders meet and are able to see each other in person and speak their minds.

And I think that the President is very aware that India has its own history, its own views, and that, you know, at the same time, having these kinds of conversation helps him to understand the Indian perspective and, I think, allows India and Prime Minister Modi to understand his own perspective and to look for areas of common ground.

And I think that there is a broad understanding of the fact that what is happening in Ukraine is a serious threat to the international order. I think that the issue is how the countries are better able to work together to try and find common ground to address it.

And the -- I think you can expect the President also to talk to India, talk to Prime Minister Modi about how the U.S. and India can continue the really extraordinary work that has been done over the past 22 years to strengthen and develop the relationship.

I think it is quite significant that we are now at the fifth U.S. president, the third Indian prime minister -- from both parties in each country -- that have made very significant efforts to strengthen the bilateral relationship. And I think that that's something the President appreciates and that you can expect to see continued.

MODERATOR: Thanks so much. Next, let's go to Patsy from Voice of America.

Q: Hello, thank you for doing this. My question is about the specifics of the COVID commitments that you mentioned about the pediatric doses. I'm curious to know how it relates to the already existing commitment that was made by the Quad -- I believe it was March of 2021 -- to deliver a billion doses, mostly to Southeast Asian countries.

As I understand, that commitment has not been fulfilled because of the Indian manufacturer having issues with WHO approval.

So is that going to be part of that or in addition to that? And just, kind of, if you could, give us an update on the status of that 1 billion doses commitment.

Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you very much. And that's a great question. I think that, you know, you obviously are tracking some of the issues that have come up.

I think that it's worth highlighting that what the Quad partners committed to a year ago was to increase production capacity and, at the same time, to deliver doses. And I think that, to date, the Quad partners have collectively provided over 257 million safe and effective doses to the Indo-Pacific.

And I think that that is, in our view, a fairly significant number. And at the same time, the investment in expanding capacity has clearly happened.

You're absolutely right that they're still waiting for a final approval from the World Health Organization. I think that, you know, that one of the things that the Quad partners are committed to is making sure that doses are safe and effective, and not trying to do anything to try and prejudge the approval process.

So we're very proud of the work that has been done. I think that it is impressive. And I think that you will see that there will be the continued production doses. And I think we all are aware there's going to be a need for boosters, there's going to be a continued demand for doses. And I think that the Quad partners have shown a willingness and ability to try and meet that demand.

I think that you're going to see, over the course of the rest of this year, a continued flow of doses. And we look forward to being able to show, at the end of the year, how far the Quad came in terms of meeting and upholding its commitments.

MODERATOR: Thanks so much, everyone. And as I mentioned, our speaker unfortunately has to run to another commitment. So that's all the time we have for today.

As a reminder, this call is on background, attributable to "senior administration officials," and embargoed until the call concludes, which will be shortly.

Thank you, everybody.

8:39 A.M. JST

Joseph R. Biden, Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials Previewing President Biden's Final Day in Japan Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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