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Australia plays down talks with India

China has expressed concerns over a recent meeting of officials from Australia, Japan, India and the US at an undisclosed destination.

world Updated: May 28, 2007 12:31 IST
Rob Taylor

Australia downplayed on Monday the security implications for China of India's request to join annual three-nation talks that also include Japan and the United States.

Officials from all four countries met informally in recent days to discuss a new four-nation bloc, Australian officials told parliamentary budget hearings in Canberra, declining to say where the meeting took place.

But after China expressed concern over a beefed-up security pact agreed between Japan and Australia earlier this year, a senior official said the talks were not aimed at forming a new security alliance to help contain Beijing's fast-growing clout.

"This is not a quadripartite security alliance," Jennifer Rawson, the head of the International Security Division of Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.

"It is a meeting of four countries which share some values and growing cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region, but the discussions certainly aren't driven by security considerations."

The Japanese government and US Vice President Dick Cheney this year suggested widening so-called "trilateral" security talks with Canberra to reflect India's increasing economic and military importance.

Cheney discussed the idea with Australian Prime Minister John Howard during a February visit to Sydney. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe raised the issue with Howard in Tokyo in March, when the pair signed their new military agreement.

But China has questioned the need for closer security and intelligence sharing between all four countries, accusing them of trying to contain Beijing's growing strategic reach.

Australia has been anxious to soothe those concerns, with China this year surpassing Japan as Canberra's biggest trading partner. Two-way trade in March topped $43 billion, driven mostly by Chinese demand for Australian coal and minerals.

Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer this month said there was no intention to form a four-nation security meeting with India.

Rawson said the recent informal talks were a "natural partnership" between countries on areas of growing cooperation, such as regional disaster relief.

"The discussions were among the four parties on the basis that there wouldn't be a detailed account of them, which is normal situation," she said, adding the meeting was separate to the trilateral Japan-Australia-United States talks.