Foreign and defence ministers of India, Australia, Indonesia to meet amid concerns over China
India, Australia and Indonesia are set to hold two virtual meetings of their foreign and defence ministers to bolster regional cooperation and maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region, people familiar with developments said on Wednesday.
The meetings will be held against the backdrop of China’s increasingly aggressive actions across the region, ranging from the border standoff with India to territorial claims in the South China Sea backed by the concentration of military assets.
The meetings have been in the works for some time and the video conference of the foreign ministers – S Jaishankar, Marise Payne of Australia and Retno Marsudi of Indonesia – is expected later this month, and will be followed by the meeting of defence ministers, the people cited above said on condition of anonymity.
“This is a fast moving trilateral with the defence and foreign ministers expected to meet over the next couple of months. All three countries have a shared interest in an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific,” one of the people said.
The foreign ministers will focus on working collaboratively to strengthen regional institutions such as the East Asia Summit (EAS), which includes Asean states and their dialogue partners, and the 22-member Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), the people said.
The defence ministers will focus on maritime security cooperation at their subsequent meeting, the people added.
Officials working on the initiative have coined the term “minilateral” to describe the coming together of the three countries.
“With the world’s biggest democracy, India, Asia’s oldest democracy, Australia, and the largest Muslim-majority democracy in the form of Indonesia, we think this could be one of the region’s most important minilaterals,” said the person cited above.
The final schedules for the meetings are yet to be locked down but Indonesian foreign minister Marsudi tweeted last week she had discussed the upcoming trilateral meet with her Australian counterpart Payne during a phone call on August 26.
Indonesian defence minister Prabowo Subianto’s visit to New Delhi in late July provided an opportunity for the two sides to discuss expansion of security cooperation and China’s activities in the region, the people said.
Subianto was one of the rare foreign leaders to visit India amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The possible sale of the BrahMos cruise missile to Indonesia had figured in talks. A statement issued by India’s defence ministry said both ministers agreed to take defence ties to the “next level of deliverables”.
Australian high commissioner Barry O’Farrell, while delivering a speech at India’s National Defence College in April, had said the three countries should identify new ways in which they can collaborate to be the “best possible custodians of the Indian Ocean”.
Rear Admiral (retired) Sudarshan Shrikhande, a strategy affairs expert who focuses on the Indo-Pacific, described the planned meetings as a good development, especially in view of growing concerns about China.
“An increasing number of nations globally, but even more so across the Indo-Pacific are seriously concerned about China’s claims, belligerence and arm-twisting while recognising the potential of its powerful military,” he said.
“A coming together of Australia, Indonesia and India could be a key contributor to stability, freedom of the commons and mutual understanding and respect,” Shrikhande said, adding the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad will have greater heft if it expands regional security cooperation to involve Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines.