Press Briefing: Previewing Quad Leaders’ Summit in Sydney

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Paige Montfort: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us today. As our operator introduced, I’m Paige Montfort. I’m the media relations manager here at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, CSIS, in Washington, D.C. And it’s a pleasure to have you all on with us today for this press briefing previewing the Quad leaders summit in Sydney.

I’m joined by four of my expert colleagues today, who are terrific. They’re all going to weigh in on key themes, the agenda, and expectations for the summit.

So first we’ll have Dr. Charles Edel. He is a senior advisor and our Australia chair here at CSIS.

Then after Charles we’ll have Erin Murphy, who is deputy director and senior fellow for the Economic Program.

And following Erin we will have Rick Rossow. He’s senior advisor and holds our chair in U.S.-India policy studies.

And finally, last but not least, we’ll hear from Nicholas Szechenyi. He is senior fellow with our Japan chair and also deputy director for Asia.

So each of these folks is going to provide five to eight minutes of opening remarks, and then we’ll open it up to Q&A for the remainder of the call. We will, of course, have a transcript as well which I’ll send out directly to everyone who RSVPed, and that’ll also be posted online at

So without further ado, I will turn it over to Charlie to get us started.

Dr. Charles Edel: Good morning and thanks to everyone for joining us today, and a special thank-you to Paige for organizing this call with my perfect colleagues here at CSIS. Look, this will be a busy, significant, and important trip for President Biden, as it will be for the region. The president will have a full week’s worth of travel, during which he will visit three countries and meet with multiple heads of state.

After Hiroshima, the president will travel to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea to meet with Pacific Island leaders as a group and bilaterally with James Marape, the prime minister of PNG. He will then travel onto Australia where, according to the Australian press, the president will travel to Canberra to hold bilateral meetings with the Aussies and address the Australian parliament. And he’ll finish the trip in style in Sydney with a Quad leaders meeting held at the Sydney Opera House. I thought I would speak to each of those stops, what to expect from them, what to look for, and provide some strategic context for the trip.

So first, Papua New Guinea. President Biden’s visit to PNG is strategically significant and it marks the first time a sitting U.S. president has ever visited the Pacific Island country. The fact that the president is going to spend time on the ground in PNG and take time to meet with his Pacific counterpart shows the degree to which the Pacific Island region has grown in importance to U.S. strategy in the Indo-Pacific region just over the past few years. The trip follows last September’s U.S.-Pacific Island country summit at the White House and the release of the first-ever U.S.-Pacific Partnership Strategy.

The focus in Port Moresby, like last year’s summit, will be demonstrating that the U.S. is a reliable, engaged, and enduring partner to the Pacific Islands. That means there will be discussions on topics of shared interest, including climate change, maritime security, and economic development. But implicitly this will also be a trip that seeks to contrast America’s approach with Beijing by paying attention to the issues that matter most to the Pacific, listening rather than dictating, and reinforcing regionalism.

The U.S. needs to make up ground in the region. Years of strategic neglect from Washington produced a strategic vacuum that China was eager to step into. The result has been that China has been steadily increasing its influence and power in the region, which the U.S. now needs to counter.

Over the last year, the Biden administration has sprung into action, sending multiple high-level delegations to the region, elevating the status of its engagement, promising more resources, and showing greater presence in and around the region. The U.S. is establishing representation in the Pacific Islands Forum and opening new embassies in the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Kiribati, and, as of earlier this week, Tonga.

One last area to watch is the Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island. When Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Port Moresby for the APEC leaders summit in 2018, he declared that, together with Australia and PNG, the United States would work to build out the Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island. There’s been very little progress to date on that naval base since the announcement, but it may be a topic during this trip.

Now, after PNG, President Biden will travel to Australia for bilateral meetings with the Australians and for a Quad leaders meeting in Sydney. The Australians have extended an invitation to the president to address the federal parliament at the Australian Parliament House. President Biden was last in Australia when he was vice president in 2016, and the last time a U.S. president visited Australia was 2011, when President Obama traveled to Canberra to speak to the parliament and to Darwin to announce the creation of a rotational Marine presence.

That trip is worth keeping in mind, as Obama used his speech to parliament to declare that the Asia-Pacific region was America’s top priority and to announce that the U.S. would work in ever, quote, closer partnership with its friends and allies.

In 2011, the U.S. and Australia set out to deepen the relationship between their two democracies, extend U.S. force posture in the region, engage more deeply with regional institutions, and further strengthen their economic relationship. Now, in 2023, the American-Australian relationship is in a very different place than it was in 2011. Our two countries are not just elevating the importance of their relationship but marking what has come to be one of America’s most consequential global partnerships. In fact, it’s hard to think of any relationship, any alliance, that has come so far in so short of a time.

Administration officials have repeatedly said that everything America does in the Indo-Pacific region will be undertaken with the Australians – (inaudible) – which was underscored with the AUKUS announcement in March in San Diego as Washington endeavors to help Australia acquire and build nuclear-powered submarines, strengthen their defense capabilities, and become a larger presence in the region.

That sentiment of partnering more closely with the Australians is a reflection of not only how far the relationship has evolved, but also how much more challenging and how much more important the region has become. It’s also increasingly a reflection of how aligned Washington and Canberra are on the need for meaningful engagement in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, on the importance of strengthening Australian defense capabilities and building American power projection, on the desire to build trusted supply chains and develop critical minerals that will power the green-energy transition, and on undertaking significant action to address climate change.

It's those themes that I would expect President Biden to speak to in his meetings in Australia, with a particular stress on climate, which Anthony Albanese has said he wants to make the third pillar of the U.S.-Australian alliance after defense and trade.

Finally, President Biden will meet with his Australian, Indian, and Japanese counterparts in Sydney at the Opera House for the third iteration of the Quad leaders meeting. The most notable development here is the institutionalization of the Quad. As you might remember, in 2018 Wang Yi, then China’s foreign minister, dismissed the Quad as both a deliberate provocation against China, fundamentally unserious, and he expected that it would, quote, “dissipate like sea foam.” In other words, not serious, not very substantive, and not likely to last, and yet the Quad takes on more substantive and permanent shape by the day and that’s in very large part due to Beijing’s own actions.

The Quad is built around the promise of ensuring countries having choice and agency in creating a free, open, stable, and prosperous region and its success is premised on Australia, India, Japan, and the U.S. jointly delivering public goods that would not exist in its absence.

I’d expect that they’ll review what they’ve accomplished so far, make some big announcements on new ventures, and look to build out further cooperation in critical areas such as ensuring supply chain security, developing critical minerals, and investing in critical infrastructure projects.

One final note. As part of larger U.S. strategy the appearance and presence of the Quad is almost as important as any action that it takes. In other words, it is probably an overstatement to suggest that the Quad is somehow accomplishing great things.

But the sheer fact of its existence reinforces that alliances and coalitions are the one thing China fears most from the U.S. and its allies.

At this point, let me turn it over to my colleague Erin for her comments. Thank you.

Erin Murphy: Thanks, Charlie, and good morning, and good afternoon, good evening for folks that may be elsewhere. Thanks for joining us today and thank you to Paige for organizing this.

Just to reiterate, my name is Erin Murphy. I’m with our Economics Program at CSIS. And I’ll be looking at how U.S. goals are on shaping the Quad, building on past successes, and looking towards where they’d like to go, and also how this fits into other major initiatives like the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, the Indo-Pacific Economic Forum, and other types of initiatives that are targeting security, economic engagement, and a big piece of that is infrastructure.

So the Quad, you know, initially started off as more of an informal engagement for the Quad countries coming together to assist the Southeast Asia region and South Asia and Africa as well after the Boxing Day tsunami. It wasn’t necessarily thought of as a formal arrangement or that it would take on the scope and dimensions that it does now. It’s increasingly ambitious. Even for the last two Quad leaders summit(s) that were held in person not to mention the follow-up calls and meetings among working groups and leaders. It’s really expanded across health, education, cyber, space, and maritime awareness.

There’s a Quad Infrastructure Coordination Group. There’s a Quad shipping task force, which is to focus on green shipping networks, a clean hydrogen partnership, a technical standards contact group, a semiconductor supply chain initiative, efforts on 5G and digital connectivity.

These summits are really heavy on promoting deliverables and trying to promote the longevity and the long-standing qualities and credibility of the Quad, and perhaps that’s to speak directly to what Wang Yi’s comments were in 2018.

But there is a danger of an overreach that may chip away at what the credibility of the Quad is if it’s trying to do all things all the time. There were, certainly, incredible strategic advantages of bringing these partners together but there were also challenges as well.

There were high expectations within the U.S. government that the Quad is going to be a serious vehicle that can deliver on aid and assistance, development in education, climate, and cybersecurity. It’s primarily U.S.-driven, but, you know, I say that with an eye of Japan and Australia being incredibly close second in pushing this forward.

The U.S., Japan, and Australia already have a strong cooperative relationship. They’re both bilateral treaty allies. There’s long cooperation among the countries, the U.S. and Australia working together on military issues since World War I and, of course, U.S. engagement with Japan after the Second World War.

Bringing in India is, certainly, strategic. It will be the largest country by population. It’s always the country of the future but I’ll let Rick talk more about what India can bring to the table.

But India is also interesting and strategic competition against China in that it is aligned in its views with Australia, Japan, and the United States but not necessarily in other issues, whether it comes to Russia’s war with Ukraine and other potential issues that may question its neutrality on the international arena.

But the Quad has had some serious accomplishments. And I will just mostly focus on what it’s done in the Biden administration. I previously was with the Development Finance Corporation and had a hand in some of these areas, so I can speak from experience and just amazement about it. But I think where the Quad is most successful is where it is extremely focused on addressing a core concern and emergency, and how to identify and accept those strengths that it brings to the table.

And I think one great example of that was the initiative that kicked off in March 2021 to address the COVID-19 vaccine issue. The DFC and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation was more on the front end in trying to deal with the financing issue. What the DFC did was identify private sector business in India – India’s well-known for its pharmaceuticals and vaccine production and manufacturing. And the DFC had identified a very strong partner that could manufacture COVID-19 vaccines and helped provide financing to bring a fourth line of manufacturing for the J&J vaccine.

JBIC, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, provided a capital injection for this company’s day-to-day operations, allowing it to focus on other areas outside of COVID, and keep it strong in other issues of health care, which were certainly still ongoing. Where the partnership also worked is that the Indian government was going to work very closely with the WHO in obtaining UL approvals, which it did, and also allowing for licenses and export controls to move rather quickly. Japan, Australia, and the United States also worked on distributing these vaccines to Southeast Asia. Australia was providing a lot of assistance on last-mile delivery, especially to the Pacific islands, already building on its efforts there, and to Southeast Asia.

So this is a really great example of how multiple government agencies and the private sector from all four countries come together to solve a very significant issue and providing vaccines for COVID-19 to developing and emerging economies, but also countries that were having a very difficult time in obtaining vaccines. After that, the Quad established a Quad Vaccine Experts Group, again, focused on this COVID-19 distribution efforts, but also to monitor how these four countries could work on this. Eventually, the Quad partners pledged approximately about 5.2 billion to COVAX, and they delivered over 670 million doses, about 265 million of those to the Indo-Pacific. That was numbers as of last year. I’m sure that’s increased since then. But I think that shows what the power of the Quad can deliver.

This works. It was very focused and definitely worked on the strengths that each country could bring. But there are different challenges. Infrastructure is certainly a big part of what the Quad would like to do. But infrastructure is easier said than done. There is this impatience of trying to build and compete against China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and really get into emerging economies, or other economies that have signed onto the Belt and Road. You get into issues or efforts on critical infrastructure, whether it’s digital connectivity, ports, airports, roads. But again, as I said, infrastructure is easily – more easily said than done.

Speed is definitely an issue. Co-financing is definitely an issue. No project sponsor wants to sign multiple term sheets from government agencies. The due diligence efforts are certainly much more complex. There’s different mandates, statutes, and standards. Just for an example, the U.S. Development Finance Corporation, which is America’s development bank and really the primary vehicle to work with private-sector investments overseas, really can only work with private-sector companies. There’s a big question mark on whether or not it can work with state-owned enterprises. Australia and Japan can.

Japan requires a Japanese flavor or a nexus to its investments, so some Japanese company has to be involved. And that can be very difficult in projects in emerging economies. And then for all of them, there’s a question of having a commercially viable project. No one wants to go in and just lose money. And unfortunately, that’s what a lot of infrastructure projects are. There’s also a question of: What does India bring to the table? Is it financing? Is it its own private-sector companies and engineers? I think that’s something that the Quad will have to figure out, and also, what is India’s strategic backyard? Is it South Asia? Australia, Japan are primarily focused on the Pacific Islands and Southeast Asia, and that may not be as much of an interest for India.

But also, on the Quad, I think in looking at where they are going to engage and why this trip to the Indo-Pacific is so important for the Biden administration is there is no favorites – (laughs) – among these countries and regions as to where the Biden administration wants to work, and I mean that in a global sense. Latin America, of course, is important; Africa is important; the Middle East or work with Europe. But Indo-Pacific region is almost the first among equals in that we are a Pacific nation, we have five treaty allies there. It is a strategic area, we have likeminded partners, and we also have strategic concerns whether it’s North Korea, the Taiwan Straits, general strategic competition with China, et cetera. There’s plenty of issues there, and the Quad will have to decide where it sits in. Is it more of heart-to-minds or is it hard military issues?

But getting more on more or less the soft power, I know in looking at this proliferation of initiatives – as I was mentioning at the top of my comments – clean hydrogen partnership, coordination groups, task force, contact groups, there is this need to have deliverables and announcements with every summit, and this kind of clashes as well with the other big initiatives they have: the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.

I think what question hasn’t exactly been answered here is how does this all work together, and how do you keep track of this proliferation of initiatives. Is it more to look like the Quad is credible by continuing to announce these things? And where is the track record on building those?

I think for things like the Quad scholars – I think they’ve had a call for the 2023 fellows –and for efforts, again, on COVID and health care, I think that’s been pretty clear and where their successes are. Others are kind of broad notions of engagement, whether it’s on maritime security awareness and how you could provide safe and secure visual connectivity.

I think the proof will be in the pudding, and I think it’s worthwhile to track these initiatives just so that you don’t have all of these announcements that they want the Quad to be credible. It doesn’t hurt to continue just to focus on the efforts we’ve already announced and highlighted the work that you’ve done under that rather than almost this addiction to announcing new things.

It will be interesting to see how this Quad rolls out. I suspect that there is going to be more announcements along these lines, although when you look at the list of things they’ve already announced in the last two years – I mean, even space is included in here – how much more can they do and where can they go?

And so I think, you know, if it was – to me and my recommendation to the Quad is to focus on what you’ve already done and build on that success, and rather than continue to announce new things, really show how the Quad is credible; that it’s not going to disappear like sea foam or however Wang Yi had commented on it for it to be a success.

So with that, I’ll end there and turn it over to Rick.

Richard Rossow: Thanks, Erin. I’ll go over a couple of things: India’s perspective on the Quad, but also some thoughts on engaging the private sector.

First, on India’s engagement – and this kind of flows from Erin’s right comments that she said before – you know, I do get a lot of comments about India’s commitment to security cooperation with the United States and through the Quad. I know that, among the Quad members, our strategic relationship with India is more recent and not as deep as it is with Japan and Australia, and it hasn’t always moved on a straight path over the last 20 years as we’ve been trying to build and create what we have today.

More recent things like India’s relatively soft position on Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, but also India continues to dabble with other forums like BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and that calls into question.

But, you know, on China, there is no question. China, from India’s view, presents the single greatest threat to national sovereignty. Today, China actually is occupying disputed territory which they seized from India a couple of years ago. They are expanding occupation of India’s neighbors, particularly Bhutan. China has an increasing naval presence in the Indian Ocean region, as well as a lot of the infrastructure issues that we know.

And even things as simple as India’s trade imbalance – you know, here in the United States, it certainly has been a bit of a driver on our more reluctance to engage globally on trade as our trade imbalances, particularly with China. India’s trade deficit with the world as a percent of GDP is about three times higher than the United States’ trade deficit, and much like the United States China presents the largest trade deficit of any trade partner. So even on trade matters, which has caused some friction in U.S.-India relations, but China remains kind of the main threat.

So India’s commitment to the Quad to finding alternative security partnerships it’s quite strong. But now we’re just kind of feeling our way across the river with our feet to figure out what are the institutions and mechanisms that make the most sense and that kind of moves over to Quad work on the private sector, the second point I wanted to highlight.

India is reluctant for the Quad to move quickly and fast into military cooperation. I mean, the Quad members do have an annual naval exercise, the Malabar naval exercise, but at India’s insistence it’s not technically called a Quad exercise, even though it is the same four countries.

We did announce – the four countries announced the humanitarian assistance disaster relief working group, and we know first responders for major threats, including the tsunami that Erin mentioned, are our navies. So the humanitarian assistance disaster relief working group does have some military overtones.

But by and large, if you look at the Quad workstreams – and Erin laid out quite a few of them – they do focus a lot on areas of strategic commercial importance, areas of commercial importance where China has been able to dominate and have strong strategic overtones, and China has the ability to levy, you know, specific economic sanctions against other countries if they’re dissatisfied.

So this includes infrastructure spending, critical technologies, critical minerals, even health care where China was attempting to use vaccines as a tool of diplomacy for friendly nations. All this are the areas that the Quad countries need to work together to reduce China’s ability to use commercial coercion in these spaces.

Now, my big thing on this that we’ll be watching for very closely in Sydney can the Quad countries come up with meaningful ways to engage the private sector. You know, right now a bunch of well-meaning diplomats from these four countries coming together and trying to reimagine how we can find new sources of critical minerals and, you know, the success Erin pointed out on having an Indian firm, you know, mass producing vaccines for the world, you know, ultimately, you’re not going to have Quad companies. They’re not going to create a four-country company institution that’s going to be mining rare earth metals or something like that.

They need to find ways that can actually offer a helping hand to the private sector from the Quad countries as well as countries that are friendly to the Quad to begin moving commercial operations. So how are they going to engage the private sector to make sure they have that feedback, to make sure they understand why has China been able to dominate these spaces, and how can the private sector get a toehold in places where they might not already have it.

Now, they did create this Quad Investors Network and I suspect they’re going to have a meeting of the Quad Investors Network alongside the Quad meeting, and that’s going to start providing a bridge to private entities and teeing up some private sector ideas.

But the policy angles that the Quad leaders are going to be working on, whatever they come up with has got to be something they can hand over packaged and ready for the private sector to take up because if you don’t have that, if, ultimately, the Quad designs architectures and systems for commercial engagement that the private sector isn’t ready to pick up it might fall flat on its face and China will continue to run the table in a lot of these strategic commercial areas.

So that’s the second angle I’m going be watching for at the Quad leaders summit coming up, and let me hand it over to Nick for the Japan angle.

Nicholas Szechenyi: Thank you very much. I’ll be brief because we surely want to get to all of your questions.

I just wanted to touch on the importance of the Quad from Japan’s perspective in terms of advancing the diplomatic agenda of the Kishida government, how it fits with Japan’s regional strategy, and then, finally, strategic competition with China.

So, first, on Japan’s diplomatic approach and how the Quad fits. Prime Minister Kishida has been very busy since he hosted the last Quad leaders summit almost a year ago, very important bilateral summit meeting with Prime Minister Albanese in Australia last October. An updated joint security declaration was issued, a lot of dialogue on economic cooperation, economic security issues, and climate and energy, coincidentally all themes that animates the Quad agenda as well.

In January Kishida came to Washington for a very important meeting with President Biden to brief him on Japan’s new defense strategy, but also to emphasize the economic pillar of the U.S.-Japan alliance. And the joint statement they issued after discussing bilateral issues went straight to the importance of the Quad, noting that the Quad should be a force for good, getting to the point about the origin of the Quad and the importance of providing public goods in the region.

And then in March of this year, Kishida visited India to meet with Prime Minister Modi. Japan, of course, is hosting the G-7. India is the host of the G-20. And from Kishida’s point of view, the partnership with India is critical as a representative of the global south, which is – engagement with which is a core pillar of Kishida’s regional strategy. In fact, he gave a speech in India which was billed as an update of Japan’s so-called Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy. And infrastructure development, economic development, aid, you know, the emphasis on engaging the global south featured prominently in that context.

So from Japan’s point of view, having strong bilateral ties with all the Quad members is critical. But the Quad has strategic import because, for Japan, the networking dimension, it’s a regional strategy, is extremely significant. So for Japan, you know, the Quad is a great way to emphasize the principles that these likeminded maritime democracies care about. If you read any Quad statement, there’s a paragraph about all of that. And to gather on a regular basis and reiterate how these countries would like to underwrite regional stability and prosperity I think is very important. And that’s certainly a priority for Kishida.

And so you have this networking dimension. The four countries clearly increasingly aligned strategically, as you’ve heard from my colleagues. Not perfectly, but this is an opportunity to identify areas for cooperation, and for Japan to further its strategic and diplomatic weight by coordinating this diverse set of initiatives with likeminded countries. And the Quad is really, I think, for Japan, critical to shaping the regional order. And so this meeting in Sydney is very important in advancing that objective and that process.

Finally, just to comment on China, echoing what Charlie and Rick have said, you know, for Japan this is also about security cooperation and dissuading China from pursuing aggressive behavior that could undermine regional security. Just briefly, if you go back to 2012, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe published an essay when he was running for prime minister the second time, called “Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond,” in which he looks to the Quad as a mechanism through which the countries could maintain regional stability in the maritime domain.

The Quad has evolved, as you’ve heard. The reference to security cooperation is not overt, but the signaling effect of the Quad is profound. Japanese observers go to great lengths to say that the Quad is not an alliance and that it’s about providing public goods to the region. And that is true. But it’s also a response to Chinese coercion. And if China wishes to continue engaging in this aggressive behavior, the Quad and other informal networks in the Indo-Pacific will further solidify their agendas. And so for Japan, fundamentally there is an element of strategic competition with China in the context of the Quad. And this joint effort to align initiatives with other likeminded democracies, from Japan’s point of view, is critical to maintaining stability and ensuring the future prosperity of the region. I’ll just stop there. Thank you.

Ms. Montfort: Thank you so much. And now I will turn it back over to our AT&T operator to give some instructions on how to queue for questions.

Operator: Thank you.

(Gives queuing instructions.)

One moment, please, for our first question. We’ll first go to the line of Darlene Superville with the Associated Press. One moment, please, while we open your line. All right, your line is open. Go ahead, please.

Q: Hi. Thanks for doing this and taking my question.

This is – the White House announced today that Prime Minister Modi will be coming next month on a state visit, all the usual bells and whistles. And I was just wondering, since India is part of the Quad, if somebody is able to comment on, you know, why they think President Biden is extending this invitation to Modi at this time, what he hopes to gain from it, given differences with India, particularly over Russia and the war in Ukraine.

Mr. Rossow: Sure. This is Rick. Happy to –

Ms. Montfort: Rick, would you like to take that?

Mr. Rossow: Yeah, happy to take this one.

You know, India is fast becoming one of our largest economic partners. They’ve moved into eighth place in terms of America’s largest goods trading partners, one of our largest services trading partners, a big destination for U.S. investment as well as a source of investment. A lot of Indian companies on the tech side, in auto manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and other sectors are making substantial investments here.

So even though, in terms of government to government, you haven’t had a lot of, I think, positive trade talks, real companies are doing real business in a pretty significant way. You know, social issues, you’ve got a lot of Indians that come here to study, a lot of Indian tech workers that come here. So you’ve got a lot of mobility of persons as well.

And as I talked about in the Quad space, on China you actually don’t have a lot of daylight in terms of our shared security assessment about China’s potentially destabilizing role in the region. The bigger differentiator that you have when we look at China is which geography is maybe the most serious to be trained on. I think, to a lot of American security analysts, they talk about Taiwan Straits, South China Sea, East China Sea, and even, as Charlie noted, the Pacific Islands.

You know, from India’s vantage point, they’re more concerned about China’s expansive approach to the border areas in some of the countries of South Asia as well as the Indian Ocean region; so, you know, a meaningful difference in geography, but the fact that, you know, we both have the same basic kind of threat assessment about China, you know, is pretty meaningful.

So even though, on Russia, Ukraine, and a whole range of other issues around the world, we do have differences in approaches and different views, on the threat that we both kind of agree is the major emerging threat, you know, for the next generations, there’s very little daylight in our perception there, just more about geography.

So, you know, people to people, business connections and a growing security connection all makes a lot of sense to try to double down and see if we can unlock more cooperation. It’s not going to happen if we don’t have engagement. And for India, a lot of it takes senior-level engagement even sometimes to move little and medium-size things to get the ball rolling, because it is still – you know, it’s about 20 years of engagement, but it’s still a relatively young partnership compared to others.

So a lot potentially on the table in the future, as well as today. So I think the timing for it makes sense. Hopefully it will be a successful trip.

Ms. Montfort: Thanks, Rick. We can take our next question.

Operator: That will come from the line of George Condon with National Journal. Go ahead.

Q: How damaging would it be if the president has to cancel this trip because of the debt crisis? And more broadly, is it – is the fact that we can’t deal with our debt and our upcoming election damaging to the image of the United States with these countries?

Ms. Montfort: Who would like to start out with that one?

Mr. Rossow: I’m happy to take that. This is Rick to at least kick off.

I don’t think it’s terribly damaging. Yeah, it’ll set some things back. But all the work that’ll be going into it to tee up deliverables and make progress can be carried out and executed, you know, by folks that don’t necessarily have to have the leader-level summit. So, you know, it’ll be a bit of a dent in the armor for sure, but I think other countries are certainly understanding that we’re going through a lot here.

You know, you think about other issues that we faced here in the United States in election time, storming the Capitol and things. Every country has got its own issues that they deal with. So it would be a bit of a setback, but nothing, I think, that’s going to be detrimental long-term to the Quad’s growth and establishment.

Ms. Montfort: Thanks, Rick.

Did anybody else want to add there as well?

Mr. Szechenyi: Yeah, this is Nick, if I could jump in briefly.

Ms. Montfort: Yes, please. Thanks.

Mr. Szechenyi: Well, of course this briefing is about the Quad, but Japan is hosting the G-7, so if President Biden were unable to attend, I think that would generate a lot of commentary in Japan, not about the administration’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific, which I think has been well-established with various efforts to strengthen bilateral alliances and multilateral groupings such as the Quad, but presence. I mean, for allies like Japan, presence is extremely important. It demonstrates a commitment to Japan as an ally but in a G-7 context also the rules-based order that Prime Minister Kishida as the host is working very hard to uphold, so I don’t think you would see overt criticism, but it would generate a narrative in Japan that the administration would have to recover from.

Dr. Edel: Also –

Ms. Murphy: I will just – OK, go ahead, Charlie.

Dr. Edel: This is Charlie, just to go a little bit further than my colleagues and say that I think that if the president weren’t able to travel on this, as he seeks to wrap up debt ceiling negotiations, it would underscore for partners that despite welcome U.S. focus on the region and the focus on allies and partners at the heart of U.S. foreign policy, domestic politics is still a constraint on U.S. engagement and perhaps on budgetary commitments as well. And I think that’s something that will be talked about widely if indeed it ends up happening.

Ms. Murphy: And I would just note that if it does happen, I mean, this is definitely going to be commentary for China. When U.S. leaders have been unable to attend, whether it’s an ASEAN regional forum or EAS, it’s been noted, and I think that’s what happened with Obama during one of the government shutdowns or threats of such. You know, and then they’ll also use the fact that the U.S. can’t figure out its own budget and whatnot. But I think the gravity of this situation, should it get down to the wire, I think allies and partners recognize the seriousness of that and that this does need to be resolved. I mean, the good thing is that the U.S. has, I think, continually sought to prove itself as a reliable partner in the region and, you know, hopefully they send very senior-level folks to go there, trying to burnish Vice President Harris’s credentials, if they do send her, but I think it’s just more so China can help shape the narrative, how that has long-term impacts. It’s probably unlikely, as they’ve done it before, but it will have a short-term impact at least.

Operator: (Gives queuing instructions.)

We’ll go next to Howard LaFranchi with The Christian Science Monitor. Go ahead.

Q: Yes. Thanks for doing this.

I’m wondering if you’d go a little bit farther on, you know, this question of overreach of the Quad and multiplication of initiatives, and I’m wondering what you all will be looking for to see, you know, if this perception about the Quad, anyway, is, you know, is sinking in and being taken seriously. I noted, for example, the – well, the example that was given of the – this is not necessarily the Quad but the naval base that the U.S. – when Pence was there in Papua New Guinea in 2018 but there hasn’t been much progress. So just as an example of, you know, how there is this, as several of you mentioned, kind of overreach or scattershot on initiatives, so I’m wondering what you’ll be looking for to see if that’s being addressed.

Ms. Montfort: Erin, would you like to take that to start? Or, Charlie, go ahead. Yeah.

Dr. Edel: Yeah, let me take that and address the naval base, and then let Erin take the larger Quad equities, if that’s all right. Because, look, I think both for U.S.-Australian partnership, in that case with Papua New Guinea but also more broadly, the proof is in the pudding, right? It’s how well the U.S. commits resources and executes, not just promises and pledges.

And I would note, and I think this is actually quite interesting, that literally while we’ve been having this phone call there’s some breaking news that just came out. Congratulations, I think, Reuters scooped it first. That when Biden goes to Papua New Guinea, he’s going to be announcing several new defense and surveillance agreements with Port Moresby. And that that goes far beyond what I was discussing earlier in terms of the naval base. The prime minister – the foreign minister, rather, of Papua New Guinea just confirmed this several minutes ago, but they are going to work with the United States, allowing U.S. Coast Guard vessels to help patrol their waters, drawing off of U.S. satellite imagery to make sure that they don’t have their waters fished, their fish poaches, and that they can protect their own sovereign maritime approaches.

The fact that this might be pulled off when the president is there represents, I would say, a really quite significant step forward. And, again, just returning to your question, the thing that we’re looking for is not promises and pledges made, but real movement forward. So this is one instance – it’s not a Quad instance. This is a U.S. and Australian partnership with Papua New Guinea. But something like this is exactly what we would be looking for, formal agreements moving forward.

But in large part, let me defer to Erin and hand it over to her.

Ms. Murphy: Sure. You know, I think, similar to what Charlie was saying, I’d be looking for credible movement on some of the things that they’ve already announced. Like, what does it look like to have, you know, a technology contact group? What does it mean to have green shipping lines? I mean, again, I really see this as – I mean, every administration, every government when you have big summits and engagements, you come with a package of deliverables. One, it’s to show commitment to that organization, to that summit, to that grouping. And another is just outline what the priorities and concerns are.

Where I seem to get concerned is really that there is almost this manic or just need, almost an addiction, to creating as many deliverables as possible. And on some of these issues, it’s very tough. So for what Rick was talking about with investor groups and projects, that’s nice. But, you know, there’s a good reason why a lot of private-sector companies aren’t in some of these strategic markets. It’s just there are not commercially viable projects, the regulatory regime is not there. That’s something that IPEF is looking to deliver on and probably its Latin American counterpart APEP. But how it worked at the DFC, you know, you don’t go from concept to contract in three months for a lot of these projects. So there does need to be patient capital and just patience overall in trying to deliver on these things.

So, you know, if I were looking at this and writing a story about it, and what my questions would be, would be on some of these larger initiatives, like green shipping lines or investments and projects, what progress has been made? You know, where are the conversations? What have you discussed? Again, declarations are great, it shows intention, but where’s the actual progress going? And I think coming up with a more clear narrative in how all these things fit together – they do. I’ve seen a lot of progress. Again, I think the COVID work on health care has been excellent. And, of course, humanitarian aid and assistance. But some of these other things, I think it’s more highlighting what the concerns are.

And there’s already some competition – not competition – cooperation between Australia, Japan, and the U.S. They have a trilateral infrastructure partnership. Through that, several projects have been announced. And it’s just how do you fit India into that? What can they bring to the table? Do they share the same concerns? Not always.

But you know, I think overall I sound pretty pessimistic on some of these things and I’m not. I think it’s a valuable diamond, as former Prime Minister Abe would say. But, yeah, I would look to see where the continuation on other initiatives that have been announced in the last two Quad summits and what’s the status of them.

Ms. Montfort: Thank you so much, Erin.

Operator: We have no – we have no further questions in queue at this time.

Ms. Montfort: OK. Great. Well, we are getting close to wrap-up time anyway, so we will close the call out there. Thank you all so much for joining us today.

As I believe one of my colleagues alluded to, we did host another briefing yesterday previewing the G-7, so that transcript is available on right now. And this transcript will be available a bit later today.

Thank you all so much for joining us. And please feel free to reach out to me, Paige Montfort, for any further interview requests, follow-ups, et cetera. Thanks and have a good one.