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NEW DELHI: Japan and the US are nudging India to close the “quadrilateral” circuit by including Australia in a strategic dialogue. But India, which kept Australia out of the Malabar exercises and remains wary of doing so just yet, is questioning who would dominate the “agenda” of such a formation.
Questioned about reports that the Japanese PM Shinzo Abe may propose a “quadrilateral” dialogue to US President Donald Trump when they meet next week, the ministry of external affairs spokesperson said, “As far as we are concerned, we have an open mind to cooperate with countries with convergence but obviously on an agenda which is relevant to us.”
India, he said, “is open to working with like-minded countries on issues that advance our interests and promote our viewpoint. We are not rigid in this regard.”
India’s interests now are focused on enhancing connectivity towards the east – with non-Chinese characteristics – and battling terrorism in the west. On a larger canvas, India is also trying to balance Chinese power in Asia. The quadrilateral arrangement, including US, Japan, Australia and India, aims to be a grouping of countries all looking to balance China, using an international rules-based order to counter China’s aggressive power play.
India has roped in Japan as a key partner in its Bay of Bengal/Act East policy, not only to work on connectivity issues, but also reassure smaller neighbours, which may have been less welcoming of India alone. Speaking at a Carnegie India event on Thursday, foreign secretary Jaishankar said the entry of Japan in this region has made the game “different”.
Kenji Hiramatsu, Japan’s envoy to India, said India is “playing an important role” in the development of Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategy. India and Japan, he said, were working to improve connectivity between India’s north-east and Myanmar and Bangladesh.
With the US, India is more invested in a security, counter-terrorism and defence relationship. This was reaffirmed by US secretary of state Rex Tillerson last week. “We are coordinating our counter-terrorism efforts more than ever before,” he said in Washington.