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UPDATE 6-U.S., India, Japan and Australia counter China with billion-dose vaccine pact

    * Biden hosts first meeting of Quad at leader level
    * Talks focus on economy, climate change, pandemic 

 (Adds Morrison quote, comment from Asian diplomat)
    By David Brunnstrom, Michael Martina and Jeff Mason
    WASHINGTON, March 12 (Reuters) - The United States and three
of its closest Indo-Pacific partners  committed to supplying up
to a billion coronavirus vaccine doses across Asia by the end of
2022 at a summit on Friday carefully choreographed to counter
China's growing influence.
    President Joe Biden and the leaders of Australia, India and
Japan - countries together known as the Quad - pledged at their
first summit to work to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific and
to cooperate on maritime, cyber and economic security, issues
vital to the four democracies in the face of challenges from
Beijing.
    "We're renewing our commitment to ensure that our region is
governed by international law, committed to upholding universal
values, and free from coercion," Biden told his counterparts,
without naming China. 
    His national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, called the
virtual summit a big day for U.S. diplomacy, as Washington
sought to revitalize its alliances and approach Beijing from a
position of strength ahead of a high-level U.S.-China meeting
next week.
    "The four leaders did discuss the challenge posed by China,
and they made clear that none of them have any illusions about
China," Sullivan told reporters, adding that they all believed
democracy could outcompete "autocracy." 
    Freedom of navigation in the South and East China Seas,
recent cyberattacks and semi-conductor supply-chain security,
were also discussed, along with the North Korean nuclear issue
and the coup and "violent repression" in Myanmar, he said. 
    In a joint statement, Biden, Japanese Prime Minister
Yoshihide Suga, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, pledged to work
closely on COVID-19 vaccine distribution, climate and security.
    "We strive for a region that is free, open, inclusive,
healthy, anchored by democratic  values, and unconstrained by
coercion," they added.
    The leaders agreed to set up an experts' group to help
distribute vaccines, as well as working groups on climate
change, technology standards, and joint development of emerging
technologies. An in-person summit would be held later this year,
they said. 
    
    'NEW LEVEL OF COOPERATION'
    Suga told reporters he had expressed strong opposition to
China's attempts to change the status quo in the region, and
Modi told the session the Quad had "come of age" and would "now
remain an important pillar of stability in the region."
    Morrison called the meeting "a new dawn in the Indo-Pacific"
and added: "let our partnership be the enabler of peace,
stability, and prosperity."
    Confronting China has been a rare area of agreement for
Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress. In a statement,
the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee,
Michael McCaul, said he was pleased by the Quad meeting.  
    India's Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said the
summit had agreed U.S. vaccines would be manufactured in India,
something New Delhi has called for to counter Beijing's widening
vaccine diplomacy.                                       
    A Quad fact sheet said the United States, through its
International Development Finance Corp, would work to finance
Indian drugmaker Biological E Ltd to produce at least 1 billion
COVID-19 vaccine doses by the end of 2022.             
    It also said Japan was in discussions to provide
concessional yen loans for India to expand manufacturing of
COVID-19 vaccines for export.
    Sullivan said the vaccines would go to Southeast Asian
countries, elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific, and beyond.
    The Biden administration told Reuters on Tuesday the United
States and Japan would help fund Indian firms manufacturing
vaccines for U.S. drugmakers Novavax Inc          and J&J
       .
    An Asian diplomat said countries in Southeast Asia, where
China is competing strongly for influence, were "desperate" for
vaccines and the end of 2022 was still far off.
    "The question is how quickly can they get them out," he
said. "It's important to get them out sooner rather than later."
    
    'INIMICAL TO OUR VALUES'
    India, Australia and Japan have all faced security
challenges from China, strengthening their interest in the Quad,
whose cooperation dates back to joint responses to the Indian
Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004.
    The group was revived under the Trump administration, which
saw it as a vehicle to push back against China. The United
States hosted a foreign ministers' meeting in 2019, which was
followed by another in Japan last year and a virtual session in
February.             
    Friday's meeting coincided with a major U.S. diplomatic
drive to solidify alliances in Asia and Europe to counter China,
including visits next week by Secretary of State Antony Blinken
and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to Japan and South Korea.
    Blinken will stop in Alaska on his return to meet China's
top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, and State Councillor Wang Yi - the
first high-level in-person contact between the world's two
largest economies under the Biden administration.             
    Washington has said it will not hold back in its criticism
of Beijing over issues ranging from Taiwan to Hong Kong and the
genocide it says China is committing against minority Muslims.
            
    Sullivan, who will attend the meeting with the Chinese
officials, said he did not expect details on U.S. tariffs or
export controls to be major topics, but added:
    "We will communicate that the United States is going to take
steps in terms of what we do on technology to ensure that our
technology is not used in ways that are inimical to our values
or adverse to our security."

 (Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Michael Martina, Jeff Mason and
Doina Chiacu; additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo,
Alasdair Pal in New Delhi and Euan Rocha in Mumbai; Editing by
Mary Milliken and Alistair Bell)
  
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