Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Australia tries to single India out to appease China

The US-Japan-Australia-India quadrilateral has hit a new hurdle. During the first strategic dialogue between Australia and China this week, the new Australian foreign minister Stephen Smith assured Beijing that Canberra would pull out of the "quad".

Australia will keep the dialogue going with Washington and Tokyo but wants to keep India out. Australian media quoted Smith as saying that during his recent visit to China and Japan, he informed both countries that Australia would not be attending any more of the four-way security meetings.

"I indicated when I was in Japan that Australia would not be proposing to have a dialogue of that nature," Smith said.

The opposition to the "quadrilateral", a grouping that was enthusiastically embraced by former prime ministers Shinzo Abe and John Howard, was expected to heighten under both Yasuo Fukuda and the Mandarin-speaking Kevin Rudd.

The Australian decision to tilt openly towards Beijing will have inevitable consequences in New Delhi, said sources, refusing to be named.

Recently, Smith reversed the Howard government's decision to sell uranium to India by denying any such move in the new dispensation.

He made this amply clear to Shyam Saran, India's special envoy on the nuclear deal, during their recent talks when Saran was in Australia to lobby for support at the Nuclear Supplier's Group.

Sources, however, said it was likely that Australia would not stop India's exemption by the NSG, because the government had recently tried to separate the two issues of uranium sales to India and NSG support.

Stratfor, the international affairs forecaster, said, "Canberra is currently in the midst of plans to cast itself as the middle power, or geopolitical broker, between Washington and Beijing... This is not the first time that Canberra has tried to sweeten up relations with Beijing in order to alleviate Chinese concerns about Washington's plans to expand its influence in the region - namely the US-Japan-Australia trilateral security alliance."

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