The White House



Joint Leaders Statement on AUKUS


As leaders of Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, guided by our enduring ideals and shared commitment to the international rules-based order, we resolve to deepen diplomatic, security, and defense cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, including by working with partners, to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century. As part of this effort, we are announcing the creation of an enhanced trilateral security partnership called “AUKUS” — Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Through AUKUS, our governments will strengthen the ability of each to support our security and defense interests, building on our longstanding and ongoing bilateral ties. We will promote deeper information and technology sharing. We will foster deeper integration of security and defense-related science, technology, industrial bases, and supply chains. And in particular, we will significantly deepen cooperation on a range of security and defense capabilities.

As the first initiative under AUKUS, recognizing our common tradition as maritime democracies, we commit to a shared ambition to support Australia in acquiring nuclear-powered submarines for the Royal Australian Navy. Today, we embark on a trilateral effort of 18 months to seek an optimal pathway to deliver this capability. We will leverage expertise from the United States and the United Kingdom, building on the two countries’ submarine programs to bring an Australian capability into service at the earliest achievable date.

The development of Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines would be a joint endeavor between the three nations, with a focus on interoperability, commonality, and mutual benefit. Australia is committed to adhering to the highest standards for safeguards, transparency, verification, and accountancy measures to ensure the non-proliferation, safety, and security of nuclear material and technology. Australia remains committed to fulfilling all of its obligations as a non-nuclear weapons state, including with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Our three nations are deeply committed to upholding our leadership on global non-proliferation.

Recognizing our deep defense ties, built over decades, today we also embark on further trilateral collaboration under AUKUS to enhance our joint capabilities and interoperability. These initial efforts will focus on cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and additional undersea capabilities.

The endeavor we launch today will help sustain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. For more than 70 years, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, have worked together, along with other important allies and partners, to protect our shared values and promote security and prosperity. Today, with the formation of AUKUS, we recommit ourselves to this vision.





Briefing Room | The White House

Remarks by President Biden, Prime Minister Morrison of Australia, and Prime Minister Johnson of the United Kingdom Announcing the Creation of AUKUS


East Room

5:01 P.M. EDT

PRIME MINISTER MORRISON:  Well, good morning from Australia.  I’m very pleased to join two great friends of freedom and of Australia: Prime Minister Johnson and President Biden.

Today, we join our nations in a next-generation partnership built on a strong foundation of proven trust.

We have always seen the world through a similar lens.  We have always believed in a world that favors freedom; that respects human dignity, the rule of law, the independence of sovereign states, and the peaceful fellowship of nations.

And while we’ve always looked to each other to do what we believe is right, we have never left at — each other.  Always together.  Never alone.

Our world is becoming more complex, especially here in our region, the Indo-Pacific.  This affects us all.  The future of the Indo-Pacific will impact all our futures.

To meet these challenges, to help deliver the security and stability our region needs, we must now take our partnership to a new level — a partnership that seeks to engage, not to exclude; to contribute, not take; and to enable and empower, not to control or coerce.

And so, friends, AUKUS is born — a new enhanced trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.  AUKUS: a partnership where our technology, our scientists, our industry, our defense forces are all working together to deliver a safer and more secure region that ultimately benefits all.

AUKUS will also enhance our contribution to our growing network of partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region: ANZUS; our ASEAN friends; our bilateral strategic partners, the Quad; Five Eyes countries; and, of course, our dear Pacific family.

The first major initiative of AUKUS will be to deliver a nuclear-powered submarine fleet for Australia.  Over the next 18 months, we will work together to seek to determine the best way forward to achieve this.  This will include an intense examination of what we need to do to exercise our nuclear stewardship responsibilities here in Australia.

We intend to build these submarines in Adelaide, Australia, in close cooperation with the United Kingdom and the United States.

But let me be clear: Australia is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capability.  And we will continue to meet all our nuclear non-proliferation obligations.

Australia has a long history of defense cooperation with the United States and the United Kingdom.  For more than a century, we have stood together for the course of peace and freedom, motivated by the beliefs we share, sustained by the bonds of friendship we have forged, enabled by the sacrifice of those who have gone before us, and inspired by our shared hope for those who will follow us.

And so, today, friends, we recommit ourselves to this cause and a new AUKUS vision.

PRIME MINISTER JOHNSON:  I’m delighted to join President Biden and Prime Minister Morrison to announce that the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States are creating a new trilateral defense partnership, known as AUKUS, with the aim of working hand in glove to preserve security and stability in the Indo-Pacific.
We’re opening a new chapter in our friendship, and the first task of this partnership will be to help Australia acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, emphasizing, of course, that the submarines in question will be powered by nuclear reactors, not armed with nuclear weapons.  And our work will be fully in line with our non-proliferation obligations. 
This will be one of the most complex and technically demanding projects in the world, lasting for decades and requiring the most advanced technology.  It will draw on the expertise that the UK has acquired over generations, dating back to the launch of the Royal Navy’s first nuclear submarine over 60 years ago; and together, with the other opportunities from AUKUS, creating hundreds of highly skilled jobs across the United Kingdom, including in Scotland, the north of England, and the Midlands, taking forward this government’s driving purpose of leveling up across the whole country.
We will have a new opportunity to reinforce Britain’s place at the leading edge of science and technology, strengthening our national expertise.  And perhaps most significantly, the UK, Australia, and the U.S. will be joined even more closely together, reflecting the measure of trust between us, the depth of our friendship, and the enduring strength of our shared values of freedom and democracy.
Only a handful of countries possess nuclear-powered submarines, and it is a momentous decision for any nation to acquire this formidable capability and, perhaps, equally momentous, for any other state to come to its aid.  But Australia is one of our oldest friends, a kindred nation and a fellow democracy, and a natural partner in this enterprise.
Now, the UK will embark on this project alongside our allies, making the world safer and generating jobs across our United Kingdom.
Thank you.  Over to you, Mr. President.
PRESIDENT BIDEN:  Thank you, Boris.  And I want to thank that fellow down under.  Thank you very much, pal.  Appreciate it, Mr. Prime Minister.
I’m honored today to be joined by two of America’s closest allies — Australia and the United Kingdom — to launch a new phase of the trilateral security cooperation among our countries.
As Prime Minister Morrison and Prime Minister Johnson said, I want to thank you for this partnership, your vision
as we embark together on this strategic mission.
Although Australia, the UK, and U.S. partnership — AUKUS — it sounds strange with all these acronyms, but it’s a good one, AUKUS — our nations will update and enhance our shared ability to take on the threats of the 21st century just as we did in the 20th century: together.
Our nations and our brave fighting forces have stood shoulder-to-shoulder for literally more than 100 years: through the trench fighting in World War I, the island hopping of World War II, during the frigid winters in Korea, and the scorching heat of the Persian Gulf.  The United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom have long been faithful and capable partners, and we’re even closer today.
Today, we’re taking another historic step to deepen and formalize cooperation among all three of our nations because we all recognize the imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term.
We need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region and how it may evolve.  Because the future of each of our nations — and indeed the world — depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead — ahead.
This is about investing in our greatest source of strength — our alliances — and updating them to better meet the threats of today and tomorrow.
It’s about connecting America’s existing allies and partners in new ways and amplifying our ability to collaborate, recognizing that there is no regional divide separating the interests of our Atlantic and Pacific partners.
Indeed, this effort reflects a broader trend of key European countries playing an extremely important role in the Indo-Pacific. 
France, in particular, already has a substantial Indo-Pacific presence and is a key partner and ally in strengthening
the security and prosperity of the region.
The United States looks forward to working closely with France and other key countries as we go forward. 
And finally, this initiative is about making sure that each of us has a modern capability — the most modern capabilities we need — to maneuver and defend against rapidly evolving threats.  
AUKUS will bring together our sailors, our scientists, and our industries to maintain and expand our edge in military capabilities and critical technologies, such as cyber, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and undersea domains.
You know, as a key project under AUKUS, we are launching consultations with Australia’s acquisition of conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines for its navy — conventionally armed.
I want to be exceedingly clear about this:  We’re not talking about nuclear-armed submarines.  These are conventionally armed submarines that are powered by nuclear reactors.  This technology is proven.  It’s safe.  And the United States and the UK have been operating nuclear-powered submarines for decades.
I have asked Secretary Austin and the Department of Defense
to lead this effort for the U.S. government in close collaboration with the Department of Energy and Department of State.
Our governments will now launch an 18-month consultation period to determine every element of this program — from workforce, to training requirements, to production timelines, to safeguards and nonproliferation measures, and to nuclear stewardship and safety — to ensure full compliance with each of our nation’s commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
We’ll all undertake this effort in a way that reflects the longstanding leadership in global nonproliferation and rigorous verification standards, in partnership and consultation with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
So, I want to thank the Prime Minister — Prime Minister Morrison and Prime Minister Johnson for their friendship, but mostly important for their leadership and partnership as we undertake this new phase of our security cooperation.
And the United States will also continue to work with ASEAN and the Quad, as was stated earlier; our five treaty allies and other close partners in the Indo-Pacific; as well as allies and partners in Europe and around the world to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific, and build a future of peace, opportunity
for all the people of the region. 
We’re joining together.  Partnerships are getting stronger.  This is what we’re about. 
I want to thank you all.  And I look forward to seeing both of you in person very soon, I hope. 
Thank you.  Thank you.

5:12 P.M. EDT


Background Press Call on AUKUS


Via Teleconference

9:03 A.M. EDT

MODERATOR:  Hi, everyone.  Thanks for joining us this morning.  Just to kick us off with some ground rules at the top: To reiterate, this call is on background.  It will be attributed to “senior administration officials.”  The contents of this call are embargoed until 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time.  And by joining this call, you are hereby agreeing to these ground rules.  Again, the contents are embargoed until 5:00 p.m. Eastern. 

Now, to quickly get into the topic of what we are discussing today: As you know, at 5:00 p.m., President Biden will be delivering remarks.  He will be delivering remarks alongside Prime Minister Morrison of Australia and Prime Minister Johnson of the UK, and they will be announcing the creation of a new trilateral security partnership between our three nations focused on the Indo-Pacific region.

The partnership is named AUKUS — that is A-U-K-U-S.  So the purpose of this briefing today is to discuss this new initiative.  We have two senior administration officials.  For your awareness, the speakers today are [senior administration official] and [senior administration official].  Hereafter, they will be referred to as “senior administration officials.” 

So, with that, I will turn it over to our first briefer for some brief opening remarks.  Over to you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thank you, and good morning to everyone.  So as [senior administration official] indicated, the three leaders of our maritime democracies will, this evening or later today, announce the formation of a new trilateral security partnership.  And AUKUS obviously represents Australia, United Kingdom, and the United States.

I think this is an historic announcement.  It reflects the Biden administration’s determination to build stronger partnerships to sustain peace and stability across the entire Indo-Pacific region.  This new architecture is really about deepening cooperation on a range of defense capabilities for the 21st century. 

And again, these relationships with Great Britain and Australia are time tested — our oldest allies, generally.  This is designed not only to strengthen our capabilities in the Indo-Pacific but to link Europe, and particularly Great Britain, more closely with our strategic pursuits in the region as a whole. 

I think, you know, Great Britain is very focused on the concept of “global Britain,” and their tilt is about engaging much more deeply with the Indo-Pacific, and this is a down payment on that effort. 

This new architecture, this new alignment is about collaborating on joint capabilities and pursuing deeper interoperability.  And you will see several things: One, we will announce a new architecture of meetings and engagements among our senior defense and foreign policy officials to share perspectives, to align views.  But we will also announce efforts to spur cooperation across many new and emerging arenas — cyber; AI — particularly applied AI; quantum technologies; and some undersea capabilities as well.

We’ll also work to sustain and deepen information and technology sharing, and I think you’re going to see a much more dedicated effort to pursue integration of security and defense-related science, technology, and industrial bases, and supply chains.  This will be a sustained effort over many years to see how we can marry and merge some of our independent and individual capabilities into greater trilateral engagement as we go forward.

I just want to underscore, just generally: Obviously, there are no better allies than the United Kingdom and Australia.  This is about strengthening our alliances and working together to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

We undertake this effort as part of a larger constellation of steps, including stronger bilateral partnerships with our traditional security partners in Asia — Japan, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines — and also stronger engagement with

new partners like India, Vietnam, and new formations like the Quad.  And, as you know, the Quad will be held in person for this first time next week.

But for AUKUS, in addition to this set of strategic and defense-related steps, our first initiative as part of AUKUS is the three countries will announce, later today, a shared ambition to support Australia’s desire to acquire nuclear-powered submarines.  And we will launch a trilateral effort of 18 months, which will involve teams — technical and strategic and navy teams — from all three countries to identify the optimal pathway of delivery of this capability. 

And I think, as you know, the only country that the United States has shared, traditionally, this kind of nuclear technology for propulsion is Great Britain, and that arrangement dates back to 1958. 

We are adding — this is a unique set of circumstances — Australia to that deep partnership to explore the best ways for Australia to pursue nuclear-powered submarines.

I do want to underscore that this will give Australia the capability for their submarines to basically — to deploy for longer periods.  They’re quieter.  They’re much more capable.  They will allow us to sustain and to improve deterrence across the Indo-Pacific. 

As part of that, we will work closely on efforts to ensure the best practices with respect to nuclear stewardship.  I think you will see much deeper interoperability among our navies and our nuclear infrastructure people to ensure that our countries are working very closely together. 

I just want to underscore that this is a fundamental decision — fundamental — that binds decisively Australia to the United States and Great Britain for generations. 

This is the biggest strategic step that Australia has taken in generations.  And it is noteworthy that it comes here during the 70th anniversary of ANZUS.  So it’s a substantial strategic alignment for Australia, building on a deep partnership with both countries. 

I do want to underscore that the Biden administration remains deeply committed to American leadership and nonproliferation.  This is nuclear propulsion.  Australia has no intention of pursuing nuclear weapons.  And Australia is, in fact, a leader in all nonproliferation efforts in the NPT and elsewhere. 

Australia, again, does not seek and will not seek nuclear weapons; this is about nuclear-powered submarines.  But it’s a very important initiative that will basically set us on a new course of trilateral cooperation into the 21st century. 

I’m going to ask my colleague if he’d like to jump in quickly, and then we will open it up for your questions.  Thank you very much. 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks very much.  I’ll just follow up on what my colleague said about nonproliferation by adding that this partnership is, in many ways, possible because of Australia’s longstanding and demonstrated commitment to nuclear nonproliferation. 

The partnership is going to be taken fully consistent with our respective nonproliferation obligations over the next 18 months during this consultation period. 

Our shared objective is to maintain the strength of the nonproliferation regime and Australia’s exemplary nonproliferation credentials.  That will be central to the discussion.  And, you know, as we embark on the effort for the next 18 months, we will be engaged fully with the IAEA. 

So I’ll stop there.  I think we’re ready now to turn to questions. 

Q    Hi.  Thanks very much for doing this.  [Senior administration official], I guess this question is mostly to you: What will this nuclear submarine technology allow Australia to do in the Indo-Pacific with regard to China?  I imagine it makes Australia — Australian subs much more on a par with Chinese subs and other nuclear-powered technology, but if you could talk about that direct linkage please. 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So, thank you for the question.  I would say, just at a general level, nuclear-powered submarines really maintain superior characteristics of stealth and speed, maneuverability, survivability, and really substantial endurance. 

And I think the challenge with conventionally powered submarines is that you have to surface regularly, the range is limited. 

And I think what we’re seeing in the Indo-Pacific region is a — is a set of circumstances where capabilities are more advanced.  This allows Australia to play at a much higher level and to augment American capabilities that will be similar.  And these — this is about maintaining peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific. 

I would just underscore: That’s the mission that we’ve undertaken for decades.  We are determined to continue that effort, and I think Australia has basically indicated that they want to ensure that they’re playing a strategic role in that overall effort. 

Q    Hi.  Thank you.  Thank you very much for this.  I wanted you to tell us a little bit about how the UK is going to fit into this.  I mean, are we going to be expecting to see more UK patrols?  Will that involve British submarines, and what type of submarines might those be? 

And on the (inaudible), we’ve heard that there might be some agreement to upgrade air cooperation that could possibly see U.S. bombers and fighters accessing Australian airfields in the future.  Is this part of the arrangement?

And also, we’ve heard maybe there could be an agreement about Australia producing its own munitions domestically. 

Thank you. 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thank you.  Those are — those are good, detailed questions.  Let me just take — give you as much clarity as I can. 

I think, as you know, the ministers from Australia are meeting with their counterparts here in Washington today and tomorrow.  They will have more to say about how the United States and Australia intend to work together on a range of issues, both in terms of policy coordination and interoperability.  And I’ll leave it to them to specify any next steps with respect to American engagement directly with Australia. 

I think, with respect to Great Britain, you have just seen the substantial deployment of British forces throughout the Indo-Pacific — very successful deployments of the aircraft carrier in supporting ships, lots of valuable port engagements.

Our strategic discussions — and I just want to underscore that this AUKUS negotiation transcended several months of very deep, very high-level engagements with both our military commands, our political leadership, and the people closest to our leaders in order to chart a common path on the way forward.

And I think what we heard in all those conversations is a desire for Great Britain to substantially step up its game in the Indo-Pacific.  I think the process of this next 18 months is to help chart out what exactly that means. 

Obviously, Great Britain has enormous responsibilities and interests in Europe and in the Middle East, but it also has deep historical ties to Asia.  I think they’ve indicated to us that they do want to do more going forward, and I think this is a clear and decisive next step in that arena.

I do want to say that these are three equal partners.  Great Britain has been a very strong strategic leader in this effort.  They have, in many respects, helped mediate and engage on all the critical issues.  And they are determined to play their role going forward.

Q    Hi.  Thank you for doing this, [senior administration official].  So, my question is — was related to China, but you sort of answered that in the first question.

President Biden talked about the EU Allies’ engagement with Indo-Pacific partners, and you just mentioned that as well.  This might be a little bit too early to talk about that, but will we see extension of this trilateral framework in the future?  You know, will we include New Zealand in this framework and France and other countries that might also be interested to have a say in the Indo-Pacific region and the United States may have interests there?  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yeah.  I do want to underscore: We see this as a very rare engagement between Australia, Great Britain, and the United States. 

We’ve done this only once before, as I indicated.  That was almost 70 years ago with Great Britain.  And, in fact, one of the reasons why we’ve done this with Australia with Great Britain is because of the experience, lessons learned, and history associated with this program, which will be extremely valuable in the engagement with Australia.

This technology is extremely sensitive.  This is, frankly, an exception to our policy in many respects.  I do not anticipate that this will be undertaken in other circumstances going forward.  We view this as a one-off.

We do believe that this is complementary to other forms of security and political engagement in the region.  I think the leaders of Australia and Great Britain will seek to underscore that this is meant to complement ongoing and existing security and political partnerships, and it’s meant to send a message of reassurance and a determination to maintain a strong deterrent stance into the 21st century.


Q    Thank you.

Q    (Inaudible.)  Can you just explain exactly how this is going to look, how it’s going to work at 5:00 p.m., given the nature of who you said is going to announce it?

And then, my big question, if you could — just be explicit: What is the message you are sending to China today?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So, let me just say, today, there will be a virtual session that will be live between the three leaders.  We’ll kick it off with a little opening, and then each of the leaders will lay out specifically what they want to accomplish, what their ambitions are, and I think it will be an opportunity for each of them to lay out their vision for the future and indicate the launch of this 18-month effort and how that effort to basically put the architecture around this ambitious partnership in place.

I do want to just underscore, very clearly: This partnership is not aimed or about any one country; it’s about advancing our strategic interests, upholding the international rules-based order, and promoting peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.

And I would just say that this — I would view this in context of our ongoing efforts — bipartisan efforts, over decades, to continue to play this critical role.  The most dynamic, commercial, economic, most vibrant region in the world is the Indo-Pacific, but that vibrancy, that dynamism rests on confidence and peace and stability. 

The United States has been the bedrock on that effort, and I think what this partnership and alignment seeks to underscore is that we want to continue to help play that role, but that we want to play it not only individually with a strong American commitment, but in partnership with other countries as well.

And so, you’re going to see a number of things.  Again, you’ve seen very strong statements and engagements with Japan and South Korea and the Philippines to date; new engagements with countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, and India. 

And then, next week, you’ll hear a discussion between leaders about how the Quad can deal with critical issues like the pandemic and infrastructure.  This is all about developing an integrated, effective web of engagement about sustaining the operating system of Asia, the rules-based order that has been so good for all of us over these many years, and we hope into the future.

Q    Hi, everyone.  How soon do you think Australia will actually be able to field nuclear submarines?  And how does this factor into their most recent order for new attack submarines?  Is this going to retrofit the project that’s already underway, modify that?  You know, what is the timeline and process?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So, look, I’m going to let Australia answer questions about their arrangement with France for conventional submarines.  I think that will be dealt with in the next couple of days.  I would view this as a unique endeavor that involves the three countries that we’ve laid out more clearly. 

I do want to just underscore that it’s very hard to overestimate how challenging and how important this endeavor will be.  Australia does not have a nuclear domestic infrastructure.  They have made a major commitment to go in this direction.  This will be a sustained effort over years. 

And everything that we’ve seen from Australia indicates that they’re determined to proceed on this course, and we have high confidence — complete confidence — that they will be effective in this pursuit.  But it will be lengthy and it will be detailed and it will be substantial. 

Q    Thank you so much for doing this call.  I understand that you’re saying that this move is — I understand that you’re saying that this move is not about any one country.  But, obviously, I would think that these are — these are submarines.  This is about national security, when you’re talking about enforcing rules and, you know, a rules-based order, and talking about having submarines that have more stealth capabilities. 

That clearly seems like this is about security matters and this is about military threat.  And it would seem like the only country that is not involved would be China.  So, I guess, can you talk more about — it seems like this is a military move aimed at China.  How can it not be?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Look, I have nothing further to add than what I’ve said.  This is not aimed at any one country.  This is about a larger effort to sustain the fabric of engagement and deterrence in the Indo-Pacific. 

We have a history of innovation, upgrading capabilities.  I would urge you to look at it in this context.  And I would simply say that I think one of the things that the United States has done most effectively in the Indo-Pacific is to secure peace and stability and to be the ultimate guarantor of that rules-based order. 

I think it’d be fair to say, over the last several years, there have been questions: Does the United States still have the stomach?  Do we have the wit and wisdom that we want to continue to play that role?

What President Biden is saying with this initiative is: Count us in.  We are all in for a deeper, sustained commitment to the Indo-Pacific, and we recognize that our — one of our critical roles is indeed the maintenance of peace and stability there. 

Q    Hi, thanks for doing this.  Can you say if President Biden discussed this new partnership with President Xi on their call earlier this week?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Not in any specific terms, but President Biden did underscore our determination to play a strong, strong role in the Indo-Pacific.  He reviewed some of the efforts that we’ve taken to date — engagements in Europe and the like.

I do want to just underscore that this effort, for obvious reasons — this is a huge deal in Australia — was undertaken with a high degree of discretion.  And indeed, you know, only today we are briefing and rolling out our engagements with a variety of leaders accordingly.

We will debrief all interested parties and explain clearly what we — what our intentions are in the Indo-Pacific, in Europe, international organizations like the IAEA and others. 

This is the intent to do this in a very straightforward, transparent way.  This is a partnership that we’re proud of, that we believe is reassuring and will have a positive impact on the Indo-Pacific. 

MODERATOR:  On that note, just a reminder, this call was on background, attributed to “senior administration officials,” and the contents are embargoed until 5:00 p.m. Eastern time. 

Thank you all. 9:29 A.M. EDT



Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials Previewing the Quad Leaders Summit and Bilateral Meeting with India


Via Teleconference

(September 23, 2021)

5:47 P.M. EDT

MODERATOR:  Thanks a lot, Grace.  And thanks, everyone, for joining us this evening.

Just to set us off with some ground rules, this call is on background, attributed to “senior administration officials.”  And the contents of this call are embargoed until Friday, September 24th, at 6:00 a.m.  And by joining this call, you are hereby agreeing to these ground rules.

In terms of the topic, the briefing is to preview the Quad Leaders Summit tomorrow, as well as President Biden’s bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Modi of India.

For your awareness, our briefers today are [senior administration officials].  Here on out, they will be referred to as “senior administration officials.” 

With that, I will turn it over to [senior administration official] to start us off on the bilat for tomorrow.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks.  Thanks very much.  So, President Biden is looking forward to his separate bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Modi in the Oval Office on Friday morning ahead of the Quad summit.

President Biden has spoken with Prime Minister Modi on the phone a number of times and has been in virtual summits, but this is their first in-person meeting and will cover a number of priority issues that India is really front and center of, including pandemic response, their response to climate change.  Will talk about technology issues, economic cooperation and trade, as well as Afghanistan and new areas of cooperation that both governments have been discussing. 

So, I’ll just give you — I’ll end with that overview and turn it over to talk about the Quad.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thank you, [senior administration official].  And thanks, [senior administration official].  And thanks to all for joining today.  And we look forward to questions.

So, just very quickly, the President — the bilateral meeting will be in the morning with Prime Minister Modi.  In the afternoon, the President will welcome Prime Minister Modi, Prime Minister Morrison, and Prime Minister Suga to the White House for the first-ever Quad in-person meeting.

As you may recall, at the outset of the administration, the President indicated that he wanted to take this institution — that’s an informal gathering of leading democracies in the Indo-Pacific — and basically lift it both to the leader level and to ensure that we are working together to build better lines of communication and strengthening cooperation and habits of cooperation amongst us. 

So, we had our virtual Quad summit in March, in which the leaders agreed to take consequential steps on a variety of issues, most purposefully the commitment to deliver a billion doses by the end of 2022 to Southeast Asia, with investments in Indian vaccine capacity.  And we will have detailed updates on efforts to meet that goal and specific down payments for later this year.  We’ll talk more about that tomorrow.

It is also the case that I think the leaders are hopeful for an opportunity in an intimate setting to sit down and talk about issues of mutual interest and concern.  They’ll have discussions, as [senior administration official] indicated, on critical issues that are confronting the Indo-Pacific — issues associated with climate change, with matters relating to COVID.

They’ll also talk about hopes for how to advance infrastructure.  I think the Quad has been all about advancing areas of mutual interest, cyber related.  We will be announcing new working groups on space.  We will also announce a major fellowship that will bring students from India, from Japan, from Australia, and the United States — a hundred in total — over the course of the next year and a half to study in elite universities in the United States, in areas related to science and technology, as a clear signal of the importance of these issues to all of our countries’ futures.

I think you will also see that the leaders are determined to pool our unique capabilities, our resources, and our expertise to make common challenges. 

I do want to underscore that the Quad is an unofficial gathering, although we have a number of working groups and we are deepening cooperation on a very daily basis.  It is also the case that it is not a regional security organization.  We are going to address particular issues associated with the challenges confronting the Indo-Pacific in the current environment.  And I think that’s what the leaders want to focus on tomorrow.

I think it’s also the case that, you know, I think President Biden believes that too oftentimes, these kinds of discussions are scripted, and he really wants to be able to sit down and have a deeper conversation with all leaders in an environment where they can really share perspectives on what’s important to each of them as they go forward.

I don’t want to go on too long, but I do want to just underscore a critical point.  I think all of you will have seen or heard the President’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly earlier this week when he underscored that, you know, we are coming out of a period of really long and consequential conflicts, and we are now doubling down on diplomacy. 

And what we are seeing is this is a clear and emblematic indication of that strategy.  It also indicates that the Biden administration understands that the challenges of the 21st century will largely play out in the Indo-Pacific, and we are doubling down on our efforts. 

This Quad is part of a larger fabric of engagement that you will see — that you’ve already seen evidence of with very high-level bilateral engagements with security partners, other steps that we’ve taken.  And we believe that the Quad will be a key and critical format and forum for discussion and joint purpose as we head into a challenging period ahead. 

So, all the leaders have arrived, and we’re very much looking forward to the discussion tomorrow. 

I think what I would recommend is we take some questions, and then I can go through a few of the deliverables as we go forward.  Does that make sense?

MODERATOR:  Sounds good.  We can open it up for questions, and Grace can give us instructions, please.

Q    Hey, guys, thanks for doing this call.  And I guess I am interested in some of those deliverables, especially as Bloomberg.  On the economic front, I know that there was talk during that virtual meeting of working together on semiconductors.  So I’m wondering if there’s deliverables on that front, but more broadly, what we can look forward to being announced tomorrow.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Sure.  Well, let me just say: On semiconductors, we will be announcing a supply chain initiative, and the effort is really a detailed joint initiative to map overall capacity; identify, you know, respective vulnerabilities; and to take critical steps to bolster supply chain security, particularly for semiconductors and all their vital components. 

I think the goal is to help ensure Quad partners help take their steps to support at least a somewhat diverse and competitive market that produces secure, critical technologies that are essential for digital economies globally.  

We’re also going to announce a 5G deployment and diversification effort.  And this is to support the critical role of Quad governments in fostering and promoting a diverse, resilient, secure telecommunications ecosystem.  And we’re launching an effort — sort of a 1.5 industry dialogue — on Open RAN development and adoption.  So this is actually a quite well-articulated game plan about how the four countries will work together. 

I’ve already talked a little bit about the Quad fellowship.  This fellowship is sponsored by private donors.  We will bring 100 students per year — 25 from each Quad country — to pursue either a master’s or doctoral degree at a leading STEM graduate university in the United States.  I think that’s a big deal for us, and that’s a signature initiative designed to indicate that we want and encourage Quad countries to send their best students to work with us and to build those lines of communication and coordination with young people.

We’ll have an initiative on space.  I think all four countries are determined to work on joint efforts. 

We’re going to share information on illegal fishing, on issues associated with maritime domain awareness. 

And, you know, we’ll also take steps to help monitor climate change and promote a variety of issues associated with estuaries and fisheries — fishing more generally. 

We have a robust cybersecurity effort underway with the State Department that’s going to be enhanced at the leader level.  We’re going to try to take steps to bolster critical infrastructure resilience against cyber threats — something that’s plagued all four of our countries.  And we are advancing a very high-level group on specific capabilities and technologies.  

We’ve got, you know, some specific steps that we’re taking in climate: green shipping network.  And this has to do with how to decarbonize what we call the shipping value chain.  And we’re also taking specific steps to work with ports in each of our countries to ensure that best practices are followed with respect to decarbonizing efforts there as well. 

I think we have a few things on infrastructure and health that we’re going to wait until tomorrow.  And obviously, the vaccine deliverable will be rolled out tomorrow afternoon.

Q    Yes, thank you very much.  I wanted to know why this call is only a background — is only a preview call with — on the bilat with Modi and not on the bilat with PM Suga as well. 

And then, PM Suga won’t seek reelection, effectively announcing his resignation. Will the return to the constant change of prime ministers impact the Quad in any way?  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So, no, we’ve already given a short readout on the meeting tomorrow.  I’m happy to give you some more information. 

First of all, the President was very grateful that Prime Minister Suga agreed to join this — what we think is a critical in-person Quad summit.  The President will meet Prime Minister Suga tomorrow in the White House.  He will be joined for part of that meeting by Dr. Jill Biden, who is returning early from a trip.  I think very much he wants to — she was hosted by Prime Minister Suga, very graciously, when she represented the United States in the Opening Ceremonies.  And it is her desire to join President Biden in doing several things. 

First, I think we want a serious conversation.  Prime Minister Suga has some issues that he’d like to discuss, including recent efforts by countries to potentially join CPTPP.  And I think he’d like to discuss that with the President.  And the President is interested to hear Japanese perspectives on next steps associated with economic engagement in Asia.

I think it is also the case that, in addition to substantive discussion, the President wants to thank Prime Minister Suga for being a terrific partner.  As you know, he was the first official visitor to the White House when President Biden invited leaders.  He has worked closely with Japan in every endeavor, and we — I think what the President wants to indicate is that he’s grateful for Prime Minister Suga’s leadership and will promise to continue to work with whoever is elected as his successor. 

So, you know, I think the President views this meeting as having a couple of purposes.  One is, obviously, to have a discussion also about COVID — the situation in Japan and the way forward — but just as importantly, the President is — you know, he is a deeply human, sentimental person, and I think it’s important to him to say to Prime Minister Suga directly how important that engagement with him has been. 

And, frankly, you know, the fact that the First Lady is coming back to meet with the Prime Minister, I think, speaks volumes. 

Does that — does that answer your question?

MODERATOR:  I think his line might be removed.  So we can go to the next question. 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  That’s all right.  Thank you. 

Q    Yes.  Hi.  Thank you so much for doing this call.  Could you speak a little bit about the Quad relative to AUKUS?  And do you expect leaders to discuss AUKUS at the summit tomorrow?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So, look, I think it’s important to underscore these are two completely separate initiatives.  They really have nothing to do with one another, even though there is some overlap with Australia, obviously.

The Quad is a discussion and engagement effort around a number of practical matters, like — we’ve discussed COVID and issues associated with climate change.  There is not a military dimension to it or security dimension to it.  And it is an informal grouping. 

And the AUKUS, obviously, has been underscored and discussed in other venues.  I won’t go through those details here. 

I would expect that the discussions tomorrow will be wide ranging.  A number of issues will come up.  This is relatively recent, so I would imagine that leaders will be discussing a number of recent developments. 

I think we’ve purposely given the leaders some indication of issues that we think they should discuss, but at the same time, there will be a lot of, you know, improvisation and opportunities to talk on what is on particular leaders’ minds. 

Q    Hi.  Thank you so much for doing this call.  Maybe a quick question.  As you know, there are some countries in the region that are a bit suspicious of this Quad initiative; they see it as too aggressive against China.  In particular, how do you think the Quad can articulate who is ASEAN?  Will the two formats be in a competition?  How will that work in the future?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So I think all Quad leaders are united in a strong belief that the Quad is meant to be complementary to existing institutions.  We understand all the importance of ASEAN.  You will note that many of our initiatives are designed to support efforts across ASEAN, including our vaccine efforts. 

I think you will hear, tomorrow, the leaders each talking about the importance to remain open about all the things that we’re working on and to be quite clear about what things that we’re not engaged in.  As I’ve indicated, this is not a military alliance.  It’s an informal grouping of democratic states that are all committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific. 

I think over time, I think concerns have been dispelled.  And I believe at a general level, this initiative is welcome across the region. 

Q    Thank you for doing the call this afternoon.  One of the things that came up during the COVID summit at the White House and virtually the other day on the sidelines of the U.N. meetings was Prime Minister Modi mentioned the ongoing desire of India for the TRIPS waiver and for more access to be able to manufacture vaccines. 

I know that’s not obviously — it’s a decision the U.S. would support.  I know that’s the stated position of President Biden.  But is there anything more on that front that either will be announced or that the U.S. may be able to do to put pressure on?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So, I apologize, but, by agreement with all four countries, the specific issues associated with what India is going to commit to do and our specific deliverables with respect to vaccines will be unveiled tomorrow at the Quad summit. 

So, I don’t really have anything further to say, but I agree that the issues that you laid out will be part of what we will discuss and advance.

Q    Yeah.  Hi, this is Andrea with NHK.  Thank you so much for taking my question.  I wanted to see if you could share any details on the timing of tomorrow’s meetings.  I know you said in the afternoon, but I’m wondering specifically about the length of the Quad summit and why that specific length will be chosen, given that it is four leaders meeting.

And then, additionally, you mentioned that the President is — will be hearing the Japanese Prime Minister’s perspective on TPP and econ engagement.  Can you share some of President Biden’s current thoughts on the applications from Taiwan and China to enter the partnership?  And what exactly does he want?  And what exactly does he hope to hear from the Prime Minister Suga?  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thanks.  I can give you some general sense.  It’s — normally, we don’t really go into great details about exact times.  I expect that the dialogue among the four leaders will take a good part of the afternoon tomorrow.  There will be time for a bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Suga and the President and, as I indicated, with Dr. Biden.

Those sessions, frankly, are designed to be free flowing.  I think the President has indicated that he doesn’t want to necessarily put an artificial stop to them.  I think he wants to let them, you know, have sort of a natural progression. 

After the meeting with President Biden, the Quad members will meet with Vice President Harris for a detailed discussion on basically the capacities associated with resilience in each of our countries and compare notes on what we think is important as democracies go forward.

So, these will be substantial engagements.  And we’ve worked closely with our Quad friends on all the issues associated with the various details more generally. 

I think more than anything else, I think the President is interested to hear from Prime Minister Suga his views on Indo-Pacific developments.  I think he’s interested to hear exactly where he thinks Japan is going and his recommendations for the United States’ continuing engagement in the region, both in terms of specific diplomacy, infrastructure, economics, and trade as well.

Q    Thanks very much.  The Malabar exercises went forward, including all of the Quad members, and I wondered if at any point that might expand to infantry exercises, especially given India’s concern about China’s encroachment on what it considers its side of the border in Ladakh and other parts of its northern border.

I’d also just like to hear why you think the Chinese forces are doing that.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  [Senior administration official], why don’t you start, and I can jump in later?  If you would, please, [senior administration official].  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Sure.  So, the Malabar exercise — you know, it’s a great area of cooperation — has expanded in recent years, regularized, and as you say, it includes all four countries.  I’m not aware of any current discussion to go to infantry.

But the point is, I think as [senior administration official] laid out at the top, developing these habits of cooperation and increasing just sort of communication and thinking about different areas of interoperability is quite important. 

[Senior administration official], do you want to take the second question?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yeah.  I wonder if she could repeat it again.  So is this the question about why — what do you think China is thinking?  I didn’t quite get that.  And maybe you could repeat it.  Thank you.

Q    What do you think the motivation is behind China’s encroachment on India’s northern border and other borders in the region?


Q    What is driving them?  Because Indian officials I speak to are like, “We really don’t know what they’re trying to get at here, other than making a point.”

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, look, I do want to just say that the — you know, that our conversation today really is about the Quad. 

In other conversations we’ve talked, we have seen actions by China that has ramped up tensions with neighbors.  It’s not unique to India; we’ve seen it in other circumstances as well and — with Australia, with the South China Sea.  And we’ve seen an increase in wolf warrior diplomacy in Europe. 

And so, it’s difficult to tell exactly what the motivation is, but I can assure you that Indian friends are very clear-eyed about both their desire to make sure that they are working closely with — in communication with China to try to avert these sorts of difficulties, but also remaining resolute as well.

Q    Thank you.

MODERATOR:  All right, folks, thanks so much.  I think that has to be our last question.  But thank you for joining us. 

And as a reminder on the ground rules: Today’s call is on background as “senior ministration officials.”  And it’s embargoed until tomorrow, Friday, 6:00 a.m. Eastern time.  Thank you.

6:14 P.M. EDT


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