Australian high commissioner to India Harinder Sidhu speaks about the tremendous opportunities to advance the India-Australia partnership in the Indo-Pacific.
Quad and Indo-Pacific

India Must Help Strengthen The Economic Order In The Indo-Pacific By Joining RCEP, Says Australian Envoy

Parul Chandra New Delhi 13 June 2019

Asserting that the Quad members are in a “stronger place of trust and understanding,” the Australian high commissioner to India Harinder Sidhu has said that where it’s headed in the future depends on “the internal dynamics of the Quad” as well as “what the external environment looks like.”

The Australian envoy’s observations came in response to a question on where she sees the four-member grouping comprising India, Australia, US and Japan heading in the near future. Sidhu who was interacting with reporters on Tuesday said: “Where it goes step by step depends on the internal dynamics of the Quad which is why I’ve always been cautious about pushing it too hard⁠—if you do that, the internal dynamics may get rocked and the other unknown is what the external environment looks like and we can’t predict that either.”

However, she said the four-member countries belonging to the Quad have “strong strategic alignment and share common values.” She further added that “it’s clear where the areas of convergence between its four members are and there is a good discussion on how we can work together.”

The Quad is widely perceived as a grouping that is seen as one meant to counter Chinese growing influence, indeed muscle-flexing, in the Indo-Pacific region. In its fourth official-level meeting held in Bangkok on May 31, the Quad countries “reaffirmed their commitment towards a free, open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific Region based on shared values and principles,” a statement issued by the Indian ministry of external affairs had said in keeping with New Delhi’s position.

Asked if the Quad should engage at the political level⁠—at present, it engages at the level of officials of joint secretary rank⁠—Sidhu said, “it’s very important that we walk before we run.” Noting that there were a lot of expectations when the Quad had its first meeting in November 2017, the envoy said her country’s position is that it should be kept at the official level for now. However, she added, “I don’t rule out the possibility that it may be raised to the ministerial level at some point. Not sure we’re at that point yet.”

While noting that the world is moving into the “maritime environment” Sidhu said that the Quad’s focus on it is increasingly important especially with the Indo-Pacific concept being a maritime concept.

In the context of the Indo-Pacific, the Australian envoy also made a strong pitch for India to be part of RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) saying that it’s an area where countries can work together “on strengthening the economic order in the Indo-Pacific.”

Sidhu said that this has two dimensions to it⁠—the trade dimension and investment. With regard to the trade dimension, she said that by looking at the landscape it remained clear that India is the leader and an Asian and Indo-Pacific powerhouse. “For that reason, it’s very important that India plays a greater role in shaping the regional trading order. Successfully concluding RCEP which includes India, China and Asean countries will help shape the regional rules and norms governing trade, investment,” said the envoy.

However, while Australia and many other nations that are part of the RCEP negotiations are keen that India joins them, New Delhi has its own reservations. Primary among Indian concerns are how much commitment it should give to allow market access to goods from these countries. What is making India tread cautiously is also the kind of market access being sought by China in India, something which the latter is unwilling to give.

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