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Japan, Australia, India, US to agree on COVID vaccine cooperation

A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children 5 to 12 years old sits ready for use at a vaccination site in Fort Worth, Texas, on Nov. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The leaders of Japan, Australia, India and the United States will agree to step up the provision of COVID-19 vaccines to the international community, when they hold a summit meeting next week, a Foreign Ministry official said Saturday.

    The agreement, part of the four Indo-Pacific democracies' efforts to counter China's expanding influence in developing countries, is expected to be stated in their joint statement, said the Japanese official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

    During the summit to be held in Tokyo on Tuesday, the leaders will discuss how to improve COVID-19 vaccine delivery and are expected to confirm that they will push what is known as "Last One Mile Support," a Japanese initiative to provide cold chain equipment to help each country gets vaccinated, according to the official.

    The four countries are also considering including in the statement their pledge to further help developing countries in areas such as training for health workers and public awareness activities on the importance of vaccination.

    In the first-ever summit among members of the so-called Quad in March last year, organized in a virtual format, they agreed to set up a working group to boost vaccine production and provision, and since then have been strengthening cooperation in this field.

    In addition, the leaders plan to say the countries will boost cooperation toward developing secure 5G telecommunications networks, as a hedge against China seizing control of the critical infrastructure, according to officials.

    A number of countries are apprehensive that a dominant Chinese presence in the market could lead to information theft from Beijing and disrupt social and economic lives in the Indo-Pacific region.

    The Quad is promoting "Open RAN," which has industry-wide standards and enables interoperability between multiple vendors' equipment for cellular wireless networks. With the system, the countries hope to reduce the risk of supply chain disruptions of vital components.

    China's presence in the telecommunications industry is increasing and one of its giant telecommunication companies Huawei is a frontrunner in 5G technology.

    Concrete proposals by the leaders include developing human resources in Southeast Asian countries to help them introduce Open RAN, the officials said. The aim is that developing local talent will lead to greater involvement in the new technology and less dependency on Chinese companies.

    A day before the summit, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will hold a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden.

    "It is important to deepen a relationship of trust," Kishida told reporters on Saturday in Kyoto. "I want to also confirm the further strengthening of the alliance between Japan and the United States."

    The prime minister added he is hoping to agree on their close cooperation toward the realization of a free and open Indo-Pacific.

    He said other key topics to be discussed are security, regional affairs, including the war in Ukraine, the economy, climate change and nuclear disarmament.

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