New Delhi: After the Japanese foreign minister went public this week with a proposal for a ‘quadrilateral’ as a counter to China, India on Friday said that it has an “open mind” to work with “like-minded countries” on issues that were “relevant” to New Delhi’s interests.
In an interview to Nikkei Asian Review, Japanese foreign minister Taro Kono said that Japan will propose a “top-level dialogue with the US, India and Australia” to promote free trade and defence cooperation across the Indian Ocean – from South China sea to Africa. The proposal is to “counteract” China’s Belt and Road initiative, also known as One Belt, One Road (OBOR) hich “would cement a sphere of influence for Beijing well beyond Asia”, the Nikkei Asian Review said.
Responding to a question at his weekly press conference, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said that India was open to working with countries “on issues that advance our interests and promote our viewpoint”.
“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,” he said.
Kumar asserted that India was “not rigid” and that it has already been part of several trilateral initiatives due to its “broad acceptability”.
He cited the Russia-India-China meeting on the Asia-Pacific last year, as well as with Sri Lanka and Maldives on security in the Indian ocean.
“We have been doing India-US-Japan for many years and recently India-Japan-Australia. We also have India-Afghanistan-Iran and we are looking to hold the India-US-Afghanistan meeting. All these meetings are conducted at various levels,” the spokesperson said.
Ten years ago, the proposal to have a Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between US, India, Japan and Australia had also been initiated by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. India had also given its assent in principle, but Australia’s prime minister at the time, Kevin Rudd, withdrew from the “quad”, apparently in a bid not to provoke China.
Australia’s change of mind at the last moment has lingered in Indian institutional memory for a long time and also hampered Australian participation in the Malabar exercises.
The Japanese foreign minister said that he has already had discussions on this proposal with US secretary of state Rex Tillerson and Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop on the sidelines of the ministerial meeting of the East Asian Summit in August.
These discussions were also publicly alluded to by Tillerson earlier this month during a question and answer session after his speech on India-US ties. He had specifically referred to the Chinese lending methods under the OBOR initiative as “predatory economics” that needs to be countered.
“And during the East Asia Summit – Ministerial Summit in August, we began a quiet conversation with others about what they were experiencing, what they need, and we’re starting a quiet conversation in a multilateral way with: How can we create alternative financing mechanisms? We will not be able to compete with the kind of terms that China offers, and – but countries have to decide: What are they willing to pay to secure their sovereignty and their future control of their economies? And we’ve had those discussions with them, as well,” Tillerson said on October 18.
India had boycotted the OBOR summit in Beijing on the grounds that connectivity projects cannot be unilateral initiatives, must respect sovereignty and have transparent funding.
the Indian foreign secretary S. Jaishankar on Thursday pointed out that India’s objections on BRI are now being echoed by other countries, who had incidentally sent representatives to the Beijing summit.
“We hear this with Japan, we hear this with the US and we hear this in Europe. So, in some ways, I think it is important that we have a view point, the conviction to speak up. We cannot always be a follower or an abstainer on the big international debates,” he had said.