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Quad one way to fix regional issues: Australian envoy

Stresses need for all forms of dialogue

June 11, 2019 10:28 pm | Updated June 12, 2019 07:53 am IST - NEW DELHI

Harinder Sidhu. File photo: Akhilesh Kumar

Harinder Sidhu. File photo: Akhilesh Kumar

There is need for flexibility, agility and speed in solving regional problems and the Quad is “one of many such small groupings” in solving them, asserted Harinder Sidhu, Australia’s High Commissioner in India. Ms. Sidhu also identified strengthening of the economic order in the Indo-Pacific as a focus area for future cooperation.

“Quad is developing into a substantive forum for discussing a wide range of issues,” Ms. Sidhu observed at a talk organised by the Indian Association of Foreign Affairs Correspondents on Tuesday. “It is now accepted as one part of a strategic landscape that involves many different forms of dialogues. This is what it should be. Quad should be important but not particularly remarkable as part of that landscape,” she added.

‘Pursue substance’

Stating that she was very positive about the Quad, Ms. Sidhu said individual statements were being issued by member states as a “practical measure” instead of a joint statement. “I would keep the Quad at an official level and pursue substance and genuine working level cooperation… may be raised to ministerial level at some point. I am not sure we are at that point yet,” she added.

The quadrilateral grouping comprising India, Australia, Japan and the U.S. was revived in 2017 but the grouping has so far shied away from adding a military aspect to it. The latest meeting was held last month in Bangkok.

‘RCEP is vital’

On trade and investment in the region, Ms. Sidhu stressed the importance of concluding the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) between ASEAN and six Asia-Pacific countries. A successful conclusion to negotiations on RCEP would help shape the “regional rules and norms governing trade, investment and the broader economy,” she said, adding “very importantly, it deals India into regional economic integration.”

While India has not responded positively to Australia’s request to join the Malabar exercises, the two countries have expanded bilateral military cooperation over the last few years. The latest edition of the bilateral naval exercise AUSINDEX in April saw the largest deployment of Australian military assets to India in peacetime, Ms. Sidhu noted. There had been a fourfold increase in defence engagement from 2014.

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