India keeps off US-Japan-Oz bid to counter China's BRI

India keeps off US-Japan-Oz bid to counter China's BRI

India keeps off US-Jap-Oz bid to counter BRI

PTI file photo.

To avert annoying Beijing, New Delhi has of late stayed away from an initiative launched by United States, Japan and Australia earlier this week to counter the Belt-and-Road Initiative of China in Indo-Pacific region.

Japan, Australia and the US on July 30 last launched a trilateral partnership to invest in infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific region. The move is apparently aimed at countering China's bid to expand its geopolitical influence in the region through its ambitious Belt-and-Road Initiative (BRI). India, however, cautiously stayed away, as it was not keen to get involved with an initiative, which will run counter to the BRI of China, particularly at a time when it is trying to mend its troubled ties with the communist country.

Sources told the DH that while New Delhi remained opposed to the BRI of Beijing, it was keen to avoid making its own approach on Indo-Pacific appearing overtly hostile to China.

New Delhi and Beijing had a series of engagements over the past few months to ease strains in bilateral relations, which had hit a new low last year over the 72-day-long face-off between Indian Army and Chinese People's Liberation Army at Doklam Plateau in western Bhutan.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's “informal summit” with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Wuhan in central China on April 27 and 28 brought the bilateral ties back on track. They also had two other bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the summits of Shanghai Cooperation Organization at Qingdao on east coast of China in June and the BRICS (a bloc comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) at Johannesburg in South Africa in July. New Delhi also lined up a series of engagements over the new few months, involving the Defence Ministers, External Affairs Ministers and Home Ministers of the two countries.

India joined Japan, Australia and the US in November 2017 and re-launched a quad for “consultation on Indo-Pacific”. The 'quad' was perceived as a move by the four nations to build a bulwark against the hegemonic aspirations of China. India has also been holding two separate trilateral dialogues – one with US and Japan and another with Japan and Australia – with “peace, prosperity and security” in a “free and open” Indo-Pacific being among the issues discussed in both. India, Japan and Australia discussed “strengthening regional connectivity” when they held the last three-nation talks in New Delhi in December 2017. Besides, when the senior diplomats of India, US and Japan held the last trilateral dialogue in New Delhi itself on April 4, they also “reviewed the outcomes of the Trilateral Infrastructure Working Group, which had met in Washington in February, and agreed to continue to collaborate to promote increased connectivity in the Indo-Pacific”.

But as New Delhi’s efforts to mend ties with Beijing gained momentum, Modi Government tweaked its approach on Indo-Pacific, with Prime Minister, himself, making it clear at Shangri La dialogue in Singapore on June 1 that India never viewed the region as “a strategy or as a club of limited members”.

India sought to allay the concerns of China, underlining that its own approach on the issues related to Indo-Pacific had been and would remain inclusive and not hostile to any particular country.

The trilateral partnership recently launched by Japan, Australia and the US is aimed at funding projects to “build infrastructure, address development challenges, increase connectivity and promote economic growth” in the countries in Indo-Pacific region. The US of late separately committed $113 million to support digital economy, energy, and infrastructure development projects in the region. 

New Delhi has stayed away from the latest Japan-Australia-America initiative on Indo-Pacific, but Washington is likely to nudge it to review its stand when External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will host their US counterparts – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis – for the first 2+2 dialogue between the two nations on September 6. 

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