With a signal to China, Indo-Pacific was the top focus at the first India-France-Australia trilateral dialogue, held online on Wednesday.
The meeting was co-chaired by Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla; Secretary-General, French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, François Delattre; and Secretary, Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Frances Adamson.
“The focus of the dialogue was on enhancing cooperation in the Indo-Pacific Region,” the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement.
France and Australia are India’s key partners in the Indo-Pacific region. The meeting provided a unique opportunity to build upon the progress that the three countries have achieved bilaterally in recent years, sources said.
At the meeting, Shringla is learnt to have shared Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision for the Indo-Pacific, articulated at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in 2018 as a means of promoting the concept of Security and Growth for All in the Region – or SAGAR.
The three sides discussed the emerging challenges in the context of Covid-19, including the financial impact of the pandemic on the Indian Ocean region countries. “The increased salience of resilient and reliable supply chains was also discussed in this context,” a source said.
They also talked about the possibility of “enhancing maritime security cooperation” between the three countries, including in the areas of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, maritime domain awareness, mutual logistics support, capacity-building of friendly countries in the Indo-Pacific region.
Sources said cooperation on marine global commons — blue economy, marine biodiversity and environmental challenges such as marine pollution — was on the agenda of the meeting. The Indian side underlined its interest in collaborating on sustainable fisheries in the Indian Ocean, technologies for harvesting of Deep Ocean Resources, Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, sources said.
Planning Chinese checker
To take on China's aggressive behaviour in the Indo-Pacific, India is engaging with France and Australia -- both countries with assets and capabilities in the region. This trilateral is an addition to the Quad -- comprising the US, Japan, Australia and India -- and adds diplomatic muscle to the global coalition that is shaping up to counter Beijing's belligerence.
The discussions also focussed on the domestic situation and response, including economic measures, of each country to the pandemic. In this regard, sources said that Shringla mentioned scaling up of India’s capacities in the health sector, and the Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative launched by the Prime Minister.
The three sides also discussed cooperation on therapeutic and vaccine development, sources said.
Sources said that development cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, initiatives such as the International Solar Alliance and Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, and the need for a reformed multilateralism also formed part of the dialogue.
The MEA statement said that during the dialogue, the three sides discussed economic and geostrategic challenges and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, particularly in the context of the pandemic and domestic responses to Covid-19.
“Cooperation on Marine Global Commons and potential areas for practical cooperation at the trilateral and regional level were also discussed, including through regional organisations such as ASEAN, IORA and the Indian Ocean Commission,” the MEA stated.
The MEA also stated that the three sides agreed to hold the dialogue on an annual basis.
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