Biden to host ‘Quad’ meeting to counterbalance China’s power

Focus on foreign policy issues as US president signs into law the American Rescue Plan

US president Joe Biden signs the American Rescue Plan Bill with vice-president Kamala Harris looking on, in the Oval Office, in the White House, on Thursday. Photograph: Doug Mills / EPA/ POOL

US president Joe Biden signs the American Rescue Plan Bill with vice-president Kamala Harris looking on, in the Oval Office, in the White House, on Thursday. Photograph: Doug Mills / EPA/ POOL

 

US president Joe Biden will host a joint meeting with the leaders of Japan, India and Australia on Friday, as the new administration seeks to counterbalance the power of China in the Asia-Pacific region.

The virtual meeting of the leaders of the four countries – known as the “Quad” – signals a willingness by the new president to embrace allies in the region as he formulates a China policy after four years of trade tensions between Washington and Beijing. It will be the first joint meeting of the leaders of those four countries.

Mr Biden has signalled that he intends to maintain some of the Trump administration’s China policies, including a tough stance on trade. But his senior advisers have also increased pressure on Beijing over its human rights record, both in Hong Kong and against the Uighur minority, as well as belligerent moves in the South China Sea and towards Taiwan.

The White House said the four leaders would discuss a range of issues “from the threat of Covid, to economic co-operation... to the climate crisis”.

It was confirmed this week that US secretary of state Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan will meet face-to-face with senior Chinese officials next week in Alaska. The Chinese delegation will include foreign minister Wang Yi and Yang Jiechi, a member of the Communist Party’s top decision-making body.

Mr Blinken is also scheduled to visit Japan and South Korea ahead of the visit – his first trip abroad since becoming secretary of state. Defence secretary Lloyd Austin will also partake in the high-level visit.

Rescue plan

The focus on foreign policy issues by the White House comes as the president signed into law his first major domestic legislative achievement on Thursday. Mr Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Bill in the Oval Office, a day earlier than scheduled, paving the way for a massive fiscal boost for the US economy. Signing the Bill, he said an “overwhelming percentage” of the American people supported the legislation. It was about “rebuilding the backbone of this country”, he said.

The president was due to make his first prime time address to the nation on Thursday night, when he was expected to sell the merits of the $1.9 trillion (€1.58 trillion) stimulus package.

Though the legislation has been passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate, Republicans have been virtually unanimously opposed to the scale and scope of the coronavirus relief plan. House minority leader Kevin McCarthy slammed the Bill on Thursday as a “payoff for [House speaker Nancy] Pelosi’s political allies” that is full of “state bailouts”.

“It pays people more to stay home than go back to work,” he claimed.

Among the measures included in the Bill are stimulus cheques of $1,400 that will go directly to millions of Americans, an extension of unemployment support schemes and generous child tax credits.

Gun ownership

Separately, the House of Representatives passed new legislation on Thursday to tighten rules around gun ownership. The Bill introduces new requirements for background checks on gun purchases between private owners. Rules currently apply only when guns are sold by licensed firearm dealers.

House majority leader Steny Hoyer said nine out of 10 Americans support greater background checks. Referring to recent drops in gun violence, he said: “We shouldn’t need a pandemic to reduce gun violence in this country. The way to do that ought to be through passing commonsense gun safety legislation through Congress to make it harder for deadly firearms to get into the hands of those who cannot bear them responsibly.”

Only eight Republicans crossed the aisle to vote with Democrats on the measure, and the legislation is going to face an uphill battle for Senate approval. A second measure was also passed to extend the period for background checks to 10 days.

Several Republicans said the rules would do nothing to reduce gun violence and could prevent victims of abuse from accessing a firearm.