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NEW DELHI: Australia has embraced the concept of “Indo-Pacific” in its new foreign policy white paper, with a growing role for ties with India and the “quadrilateral” with Japan, US and India.
Releasing the white paper, Malcolm Turnbull, Australian Prime Minister said his country was attempting to shape the Indo-Pacific concept by linking up with countries who “share our interests and commitment to rules-based institutions”.
However, the support for the “quad” is not uniform in the Australian political system. The opposition Labour party has clarified they had not yet signed off on the “quadrilateral” which is bound to act as headwinds for Turnbull’s foreign policy – which appears predicated on maintaining close economic and commercial ties with China but strategic and security closeness with US, Japan, and even India.
“A good example is when officials of Japan, India, the US and Australia met in the margins of the East Asia Summit in Manila earlier this month. I discussed the importance of this initiative with Prime Minister Modi in Manila at our meeting. Another was my meeting with the Prime Minister Phuc in Vietnam earlier this month, where we agreed to work towards signing a strategic partnership. Of course, our trilateral leaders’ meeting with Prime Minister Abe and President Trump.”
Addressing obliquely the strategic dilemma Australia faces, Turnbull observed, “This is the first time in our history that our dominant trading partner is not also our dominant security partner.” China occupies a virtually dominant position in Australia’s economy and society, but for security partnerships, the Turnbull government has been actively seeking the revival of the “quad” as well as participation in the Malabar naval exercises. This request was reiterated during the “quad” officials’ meeting in Manila recently. Sources said the next meeting is a distance away, perhaps on the sidelines of another multilateral event.
Australia will also come out with an India strategy paper in the coming months which, sources said, would complement today’s white paper.
Laying out the Australian vision of the Indo-Pacific, Turnbull said “might is not right.” He described “a neighbourhood that is defined by open markets and the free flow of goods, services, capital and ideas. Where freedom of navigation goes unchallenged and the rights of small states are untrammelled. Where our shared natural bounty, our land and water and air, is cherished and protected and disagreements are resolved by dialogue in accordance with agreed rules and established institutions.”
Rowan Callick, a columnist for The Australian in China, said even Indo-Pacific worries Beijing. “The term Indo-Pacific has become identified with the resurrection of the quadrilateral dialogue between India, Japan, US and Australia, viewed by some in China as a “containment” strategy, a word intended to arouse memories of the “century of humiliation by foreign powers” that occupies a central place in Chinese history books.