Australia raises Doklam standoff with India

julie bishop

NEW DELHI: Playing down evident Australian disappointment about being kept out of the Malabar exercise, Julie Bishop, the visiting foreign minister, said on Tuesday she had had discussions with the Indian leadership about the India-China standoff in Doklam. Bishop described her conversations with the Indian government as “interesting, productive, fruitful”. She said Australia saw India as an incredibly important power and wanted to work closely in defence because both countries share the same interest in maritime security, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region.

Later in the evening, Bishop delivered a lecture on Australian foreign policy imperatives in the Indo-Pacific.

This is one of four speeches to be delivered by the Australian foreign minister, sources said, as Australia gets ready to bring out its foreign policy white paper later this year. Stressing that Australia did not want an escalation in the India-China crisis, Bishop said, “My understanding is, this is a long-term dispute. We had discussions on this today (Tuesday). We believe territorial disputes should be resolved peacefully.”

Australia is China’s largest trading partner, with very close political relations between Canberra and Beijing. “Australia has a positive engagement with China, but it has an assertive foreign policy, especially in the South China Sea.”

Bishop met with Sushma Swaraj for the foreign ministers’ framework dialogue, discussed defence cooperation with Arun Jaitley, and regional and global challenges with PM Modi. Asked whether Australia was cut up about Malabar, Bishop said no, adding, “Australia is always keen to take part in naval exercises, for greater interoperability; we have just completed the Aus-Index exercises bilaterally with India. Australia holds a number of exercises with other countries, where India is not a part. So we don’t consider this to be a problem. We are all working together to maintain peace in the region.” With the Australian parliament clearing a civil nuclear agreement with India, Bishop said the first shipment of uranium was “on its way” to India. “We believe India has adhered to its non-proliferation assurances.”

 A big sticking point in bilateral ties is the failure of both sides to complete a bilateral trade agreement. “Australia wants a high-quality comprehensive trade agreement with India. We are hoping to offer to India the kind of market access that we offer to Japan and China,” Bishop said. Australia’s trade minister will visit India with a delegation this year, she said.

Former Australian foreign secretary and high commissioner to India Peter Varghese has been tasked by Australia to prepare a blueprint for economic and commercial engagement with India.

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