NEW DELHI: In their first-ever summit, leaders of the Quad countries on Friday finalised a landmark initiative under which huge investments will be made in India to create additional production capacities for the export of doses of COVID-19 vaccines to the Indo-Pacific region, seen as an effort to counter China's expanding vaccine diplomacy.
The Quad leaders -- Prime Minister Narendra Modi, US President Joe Biden, Australian PM Scott Morrison and Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga -- vowed to strive for an Indo-Pacific region that is free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic? values, and unconstrained by coercion, in an apparent message to China.
In his opening remarks at the virtual summit, Modi said Quad has come of age and its agenda covering areas like vaccines, climate change and emerging technologies makes it a force for global good.
Modi said India's formidable vaccine production capacity will be expanded with support from Japan, US and Australia to assist countries in the Indo-Pacific region and that Quad would now remain an important pillar of stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
"We are united by our democratic values, and our commitment to a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific. Our agenda today - covering areas like vaccines, climate change and emerging technologies - makes the Quad a force for global good," he said.
In his comments, Biden said the Quad is going to be a vital arena for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.
"A free and open Indo Pacific is essential to each of our futures," Biden told the meeting from the White House.
In a media briefing, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said, referring to the vaccine initiative and making India a major production hub, the aim is to produce a billion doses of vaccines by the end of 2022.
He said the financing for creation of additional production capacities in India will come from the US and Japan, while Australia will contribute to the last mile logistics and delivery issues.
"In today's context, it is one of the most important initiatives. We are talking about huge investments in creating additional vaccine capacities in India for exports to countries in the Indo-Pacific region for their betterment. We are talking about producing a billion doses of vaccines by the end of 2022," he said.
Asked whether the situation in eastern Ladakh figured in the talks, the foreign secretary said there was a discussion on regional issues important to the Quad member nations but declined to give the details saying the nature of the discussions were confidential.
"There was a commonality of views on these issues. Constructive discussions will continue," he said.
It is learnt that the situation in eastern Ladakh figured in the summit and Quad leaders appeared supportive of India on it.
In a joint statement titled 'The Spirit of the Quad', the leaders said they pledged to strengthen cooperation on the "defining challenges of our time" and said they will continue to prioritise the role of international law in the maritime domain and facilitate collaboration, including in maritime security, to meet challenges to the rules-based maritime order in the East and South China Seas.
Referring to the situation in Myanmar following the coup, the Quad leaders emphasised the urgent need to restore democracy and the priority of strengthening democratic resilience.
In the summit, the leaders decided to establish a vaccine expert working group to implement path-breaking commitment to safe and effective vaccine distribution.
They also decided to launch a critical- and emerging-technology working group to facilitate cooperation on international standards and innovative technologies of the future.
A separate working group will be set up on issue relating to climate change.
"The ambition of these engagements is fit to the moment; we are committed to leveraging our partnership to help the world's most dynamic region respond to historic crisis, so that it may be the free, open, accessible, diverse, and thriving Indo-Pacific we all seek," the joint statement said.
Following the summit, Prime Minister Modi described the discussions as "fruitful" and said he reiterated India's commitment to a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific in line with the country's vision of SAGAR - Security and Growth for All in the Region.
"Our discussions today on vaccines, climate change, and emerging technologies make the Quad a positive force for global good and for peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific," he tweeted.
In their joint statement, the Quad leaders noted that the global devastation wrought by COVID-19, the threat of climate change,? and security challenges facing the region "summon us with renewed purpose".
In the media briefing, Shringla said it was decided that India's manufacturing capacities is something that is going to be leveraged to make US vaccines.
Shringla said the vaccine initiative is a special one which is designed pro-actively to mitigate impact of COVID-19 among countries in the Indo-Pacific.
"India welcomes Quad vaccine initiatives as it recognises our own manufacturing capacities and capabilities," he said.
Shringla said Friday's virtual summit has set a benchmark for Quad's future efforts in interests of Indo-Pacific region.
He said Quad vaccine initiative is the most pressing and valuable.
In their joint statement, the leaders said they will redouble commitment to engagement and will combine nations' medical, scientific, financing, manufacturing and delivery, and development capabilities.