Quad Summit strengthens America’s hand before talks with China: U.S. official

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan are scheduled to meet China’s Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi and State Councilor Wang Yi on Thursday and Friday

March 17, 2021 07:37 am | Updated 09:40 am IST

A monitor displaying the virtual meeting of U.S. President Joe Biden (top L), Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison (bottom L), Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seen during the virtual Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) in Tokyo on March 12, 2021.

A monitor displaying the virtual meeting of U.S. President Joe Biden (top L), Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison (bottom L), Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seen during the virtual Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) in Tokyo on March 12, 2021.

The U.S. has sought to build strength before engaging China later this week and the Quad Summit is an example of this, a senior administration official said on Tuesday night during a briefing call with reporters.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan are scheduled to meet China’s Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi and State Councilor Wang Yi on Thursday and Friday. Both U.S. officials have been extensively engaged with allies, primarily in Europe and the Indo Pacific, since the administration kicked off on January 20. Mr. Blinken is currently visiting Tokyo and Seoul along with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Also read: Editorial | Summit spirit: On Quad and India’s interests

“I think sometimes folks think of our allies and partners piece here as just being about choreography that somehow we just need to talk to our allies before we talk to China,” the official, who did not want to be named, said. “I want to stress that that's actually not the case. Obviously that sequencing is part of the equation here, but we're working actually with allies and partners to strengthen our hand,” the official said.

“The Quad [summit] last week was probably the most important very clear illustration in practical terms of exactly what we're trying to achieve here, bringing together the four leaders in a virtual summit for the first time to actually do something together that we couldn't do individually, particularly on the vaccine distribution deliverable that was big and affirmative for the region,” the official said.

“This isn't just about something that is here to counter China. This is about something that's actually about doing something that enhances our leverage enhances the quality of life in the region in meaningful ways,” they said.

U.S. President Joe Biden hosted the first ever summit level meeting of the Quad grouping – the U.S., India, Australia and Japan last Friday. The group announced a plan to produce and distribute up to 1 billion vaccines to overcome shortages in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

The official said it was important for Beijing to hear directly from Mr. Blinken and Mr. Sullivan and that sometimes there is a “hope in Beijing that our public message is somehow different” from private message.

“And we think it's really important that we dispel that idea very early, and that we're very clear with delivering the same messages in private that you have heard from us in public,” they said. The U.S. has said it will discuss a long list of concerns with China – these include human rights abuses, Chinese aggression in the neighbourhood, an erosion of democratic norms in Hong Kong and predatory economic practices of Beijing.

A meeting that involved both the Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor is also expected to send a message to Beijing that different parts of the administration were singing from the same song sheet. The official said that Beijing had a track record of “attempting to try to play favourites within an administration and in particular to play the Secretary of State and National Security Advisor off each other.”

The official also said that there will not be a joint statement from the U.S. and China following this week’s meetings and that the U.S. is also not expecting “specific negotiated deliverables” from the talks.

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