India, France and Australia on Wednesday underlined their common ground on the Indo-Pacific region days after Russia described the Quad grouping as an “Asian NATO”, reported The Indian Express. The countries, however, differed on their position about the situation in Myanmar, where the military took over after a coup on February 1.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had used the term “Asian NATO” for the emerging alliances at a news conference with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar Jaishankar in New Delhi on April 6, reported the Hindustan Times. Russian envoy Nikolay Kudashev had reiterated Moscow’s criticism, saying that the Quad was aimed at reviving Cold War-era structures.
At the Raisina Dialogue conference co-hosted by the Ministry of External Affairs and the Observer Research Foundation, Jaishankar on Wednesday said countries using terms like “Asian NATO” are playing “mind games”. He said that India will not have others countries “veto” what it discusses and with whom.
“So, that kind of NATO mentality has never been India’s,” the foreign minister added. “If it has been there in Asia before, I think it’s in other countries and regions – not in mine.”
The foreign minister said the Indo-Pacific was a clear message that India will not be limited between the Malacca Strait and the Gulf of Aden, asserting that the country’s interests, influence and activities go way beyond.
“I would argue that, in a way, Indo Pacific is a sort of return to history,” he said. “It reflects the more contemporary world, it is actually overcoming the Cold War, not reinforcing it. So I would very much hope that all of us who would like to run contemporary foreign policies look at it that way.”
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian clarified that the three countries were not in any sort of “military institution or format” in the Indo-Pacific. He reiterated that France has a legitimate role in the Indo-Pacific as there are two million (20 lakh) French inhabitants in the region.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Ann Payne pointed out that the three countries are “very sound examples” of working together in the Indo-Pacific region. She said that the challenges to working together came from those who are against the “rules-based order”. The minister called for a “practical” and “flexible” approach to respond to these difficulties.
She noted that the three countries worked together on different matters related to the coronavirus pandemic and economic challenges triggered by the outbreak.
Differences on Myanmar
While France and Australia condemned the violence in Myanmar and the use of armed forces against civilians, India struck a cautionary note when discussing the topic.
Jaishankar said that all democratic countries have a common position on the matter, but pointed out that all of them are “located differently”.
“We also have a unique position,” the external affairs minister said. “So, we are seized of it, both bilaterally and we have a long border and we engage with all parties in Myanmar very very intensively.”
He said that India was in regular touch with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in terms of what it was doing. He said that all the countries would need to come together to find a common solution.
The French foreign minister said that there is a “lot of solidarity” with detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the “properly elected” government that was deposed by the military junta. Le Drian said that the European Union has imposed sanctions against Myanmar’s military regime. “I believe this is a serious attack against democracy in the southeast of Asia, and we need to maintain international pressure,” he said.
The Australian foreign minister stressed on the need to work with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to find solutions in response to the military coup. “The increase in violence and the increasing number of deaths are deeply concerning,” Payne said. “I strongly support the bringing together of an ASEAN leaders meeting in the coming week, that will occur early next week.”
She said that she hoped the ASEAN meeting can press upon Myanmar and result in the cessation of the use of armed force against civilians, while finding a way forward.