Joe Biden’s upcoming meeting with the leaders of Australia, Japan and India indicates that Canberra is not “alone” at a time of intense pressure from China, experts say.

But while regional challenges are expected to be high on the agenda of the first summit of leaders of the “Quad” countries later this week, the White House has also indicated that the climate crisis will be part of the talks – reflecting the will. of the US President to ensure that all countries raise their level of ambition.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday he “couldn’t be happier” with the scheduled virtual meeting, scheduled for early Saturday morning at Canberra time, saying Australia had pushed to raise the Quad’s status, including in its first one-on-one telephone interview with the US President last month.

Morrison said the leadership level talks were important because “the peace and stability that all Australians rely on for their freedom and so that they can live their lives as they wish in a liberal democracy such as the Australia depends on peace. and the stability of our region ”.

The Quad grouping is not a formal alliance but brings together the main maritime democracies of the Indo-Pacific. He is viewed with suspicion by Beijing, which sees it as an effort to contain China’s growing regional influence.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the virtual meeting between Biden, Morrison, Yoshihide Suga of Japan and Narendra Modi of India would discuss a series of questions, “if it s It is about solving the climate crisis, if it works together to deal with the global pandemic. or of course economic cooperation ”.

“Formed following the 2004 tsunami and formalized in 2007, the Quad met regularly at the level of labor and foreign ministers; However, Friday will be the first time that the Quad will meet at leaders’ level, ”Psaki said at a daily press briefing.

“The fact that President Biden made this one of his first multilateral engagements is a testament to the importance we place on close cooperation with our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific.”

Professor Rory Medcalf, director of the National Security College at Australian National University, said the first Quad leaders’ meeting was “a historic milestone” which signaled “a new level of political determination to balance Chinese power together.” .

“This normalizes security cooperation between the four countries and will encourage their bureaucracies to speed up a practical agenda, despite obvious national differences,” Medcalf told Guardian Australia.

He said the leaders’ summit was also “proof that the Quad will outlive Donald Trump, and indeed could thrive better without his confrontational style.”

“For Australia, the Quad Summit is an important sign that we are not alone in resisting Chinese pressure,” Medcalf said.

The announcement of the meeting comes two days after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called for “true multilateralism” and argued against exclusive groupings or “selective multilateralism”.

In a possible reference to the Quad, Wang said on Monday, “Building small circles in the name of multilateralism is actually ‘group politics’.”

However, Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan downplayed the potential for further trade retaliation against Australian exporters, after a year in which Chinese authorities took action against a range of sectors, including coal, barley and wine in a deepening diplomatic conflict.

Tehan told the ABC that the next meeting is “to make sure markets stay open and trade is on a free basis.”

Dr Jeffrey Wilson, research director at the Perth USAsia Center at the University of Western Australia, said elevating the Quad to a leadership meeting, if only on an ad hoc basis, would expand the program of the group beyond defense and security issues. .

Wilson said the meeting will likely focus on vaccine distribution and advocating for democratic institutions.

“However, as the Quad is now free from safety issues, its future agenda can now evolve more freely. A number of common issues – especially economic coercion and foreign interference – are likely to be part of the language of Quad. “

Wilson said the move offered certain advantages for Australia, allowing the government “to coordinate with a group of powerful and like-minded friends on pressing issues on the foreign policy agenda, such as the recent trade coercion by China ”.

But he added that it also risked “diluting the Quad’s agenda, which has been tightly focused over the past decade on maritime security.”

“With limited diplomatic and political capital to spend, it remains to be seen whether the expansion of the Quad program will be effective.”

Biden vowed to use all diplomatic levers to rally increased global action “in the face of this existential threat.”

Among the Quad group, the US and Japan have pledged to net zero emissions by 2050, while Australia has expressed a preference to meet the target without making a firm commitment. India has also not made a commitment to reach net zero by 2050, but has pledged to exceed expectations.

Monday, the United States and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement urging all countries “to take the necessary steps to keep a 1.5 ° C temperature limit within reach, including through ambitious nationally determined contributions and long-term strategies to reduce emissions and achieve zero net”.

Biden’s special presidential climate envoy John Kerry cited the 2019-2020 bushfires in Australia as evidence of the need for urgent action on the climate crisis. Last month, Kerry publicly acknowledged the “differences” between the United States and Australia in tackling the climate crisis while calling for a faster exit from coal-fired power around the world.