Prime Minister Scott Morrison has declared a “new dawn” in the Indo-Pacific after joining the first leaders’ summit of Joe Biden’s US presidency.
Mr Biden hosted the video link-up from the State Dining Room of the White House with the Prime Ministers of Australia, India and Japan.
The four-member regional grouping known as the Quad, comprising the United States, India, Australia and Japan, want to expand global vaccinations and counter China’s growing vaccination diplomacy in Southeast Asia and around the world.
Foreign ministers from the four countries have convened since 2007 but the virtual summit was the first to feature the heads of government at the table.
In his opening remarks at the historic virtual meeting, Mr Morrison said the gathering marked a “new dawn” in the region.
“As four leaders of great liberal democracies in the Indo-Pacific, let our partnership be the enabler of peace, stability and prosperity and to do so inclusively with the many nations of our region,” he said.
Mr Morrison stressed the need to work together for the region as it grapples with the effects of the pandemic, in order to avoid history repeating itself.
“When the world emerged from the Great War and our last global pandemic a century ago, it soon found a great depression and another global conflict, and it unleashed a poverty and a devastation that was unthinkable,” he said.
“As we emerge from this global pandemic, and the global recession, let us together create a different future.”
The leaders during the meeting agreed to pool financing, manufacturing and distribution capacity to send one billion coronavirus vaccines across Asia by the end of 2022, India’s foreign secretary says.
“We believe this will speed up the process of post-pandemic recovery and enable families and businesses to put the COVID-19 crisis behind them,” Harsh Vardhan Shringla said after the summit.
India – the world’s biggest vaccine maker – will use its manufacturing capacity to make US vaccines, with financing coming from the US International Development Finance Corporation and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation.
Australia will finance training and provide last-mile logistical support for the distribution of vaccines that will predominantly go to the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia and countries in the Indian Ocean.
The Quad meeting also agreed to set up a group of experts to help distribute vaccines as well as working groups for co-operation on climate change, technology standards and joint development of emerging technologies.
“We strive for a region that is free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values and unconstrained by coercion,” read the statement from the countries, a grouping seen as formed to counter China’s growing influence in Asia and beyond.
Earlier, US President Joe Biden said a free and open Indo-Pacific region was crucial to all four countries.
“A free and open Indo-Pacific is essential to each of our futures,” Biden told the meeting from the White House.
“The United States is committed to working with you, our partners, and all our allies in the region, to achieve stability.”
Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi told the session the Quad had “come of age” and would remain an important pillar of stability in the region.
The four leaders agreed to hold an in-person meeting later this year.