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India, Australia, Japan, US hold talks on Indo-Pacific cooperation


Manila: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with US President Donald Trump, Japanese Prime Shinzo Abe and other world leaders at an ASEAN Summit dinner in Manila on Sunday. PTI Photo (PTI11_12_2017_000162B)

Manila: Signalling a widening of their security cooperation under the proposed quadrilateral coalition, officials from India, the US, Japan, and Australia on Sunday held extensive talks here to pursue common interests in the strategically important Indo-Pacific region, where China has been aggressively expanding its military presence.

In the meeting, seen as the first major move in formation of the quadrilateral security dialogue – or ‘quad,’ as it has been dubbed — the officials deliberated on the evolving security scenario in the Indo-Pacific region besides delving into effectively combating threat of terrorism and other security challenges.

In a statement, the ministry of external affairs (MEA) said the consultations were held on issues of common interest in the Indo-Pacific region with a focus on cooperation based on converging vision and values for promotion of peace, stability and prosperity in the area.

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The meeting took place ahead of the ASEAN and East Asia summits here for which Prime Minister Narendra Modi, US President Donald Trump, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull have already arrived. “They agreed that a free, open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region serves the long-term interests of all countries in the region and of the world at large. The officials also exchanged views on addressing common challenges of terrorism and proliferation linkages impacting the region as well as on enhancing connectivity,” the MEA said.

It said the Indian side highlighted India’s ‘Act East’ Policy as the cornerstone of its engagement in the Indo- Pacific region. Modi is scheduled to have a bilateral meeting with Trump and Abe on Monday and the security scenario in the Indo-Pacific region may figure in the meetings.

The formation of a quadrilateral security dialogue comprising India, the US, Australia and Japan was first mooted around 10 years back but it did not see the light of day. Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono last month had said that Tokyo favours the quadrilateral dialogue to further boost strategic partnership among the four countries. Reacting to the Japanese move, India had said it was open to working with like-minded countries on issues that advance its interests. The US had said it was looking at a “working-level” quadrilateral meeting in the near term with India, Japan and Australia. The US and Japan have been pushing for a deeper Indian role in the Indo-Pacific region.

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The issue of China’s aggressive build up in the South China Sea is understood to have figured in Sunday’s meeting which was attended by officials from the MEA, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the US State Department. China has already reacted cautiously to the proposal by the Trump administration for a working-level quadrilateral meeting, saying it hopes it would not target or damage a “third party’s interest”.

BEYOND HANDSHAKES: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday became the first Indian Prime Minister since Indira Gandhi to visit Manila, the capital of Philippines in 36 years. Over the next three days, he will attend a summit of ASEAN, a 10-nation group. Before a gala dinner to mark ASEAN’s 50th anniversary, he had one-on-one meetings with US President Donald Trump and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. A tweet by Modi showed him smiling warmly and shaking hands with President Trump. At the pre-dinner reception, PM Modi was also seen talking to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. All the leaders were dressed in Barong Tagalong — an embroidered shirt that’s the national dress of the Philippines.

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