Vital that nations like India, Vietnam, Indonesia have greater stake in Indo-Pacific Aus deputy HC

NEW DELHI: It is vital that countries like India, Indonesia and Vietnam have more say and greater stake in the Indo-Pacific region’s institutions and norm-setting, a senior Australian diplomat here said on Wednesday.

“There is no doubt uncertainty, change, and disruption characterise the region but there are good prospects for countries like Australia and India, and one is the potential for us to work together,” Australian Deputy High Commissioner in New Delhi, Rod Hilton, said.

In his address at the Chanakya Chakra forum, themed ‘Towards a Secure and Prosperous Indo-Pacific’, Hilton asserted that the region’s rules will naturally change with evolving geo-politics.

He also said it was an “exciting time” right across the Indo-Pacific as well as for the Australia-India bilateral relationship. “Our (India-Australia) relationship is in very good shape and on an upward trajectory,” Hilton said.

On the Indo-Pacific region, he said, power is on the move, “from the North Atlantic, to the Indo-Pacific”.

“We are at a point in history where we are transitioning from one international order to another… Military expenditure in the region is on the rise. Already six of the 10 states with the highest military expenditure in the world are in the Indo-Pacific.

“We are also seeing deepening rivalries and sharpening strategic competition over the future of the regional order. As competition has deepened, respect for international law, rules, norms and institutions has been challenged. Some powers are also showing a greater willingness to use power coercively,” the Australian diplomat said.

These trends are playing out in the Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, he said, adding that established institutions, such as the ASEAN and its famed unity, are “under pressure”.

“It is easy to conclude that the future of the Indo-Pacific rests in how the US-China dynamic plays out, and it is correct to say that the relationship is the most important in the region and is currently strained,” Hilton said.

But the US-China relationship, as important as it is, will not be the only determinant. The future regional order will be considerably impacted by other powerful, players in the region, he said.

“India in particular will grow in strategic weight. As the world’s largest democracy and a growing large economy, India has shown unequivocally development and democracy can coexist. India’s voice will be particularly consequential in regional order building,” the deputy high commissioner said.

As will other emerging Indo-Pacific powers such as Indonesia and Vietnam, he said.

“Australia accepts that the rules of the region will naturally change as the geo-political power balances changes. And it is vital that countries like India, Indonesia and Vietnam have more of a say and a greater stake in institutions and norm-setting,” Hilton said.

Australia seeks an Indo-Pacific region of stable, prosperous and sovereign states, “resistant to coercion”, but open to engagement on the basis of shared interests, he said.

“We are committed to an ambitious, proactive agenda to shape such a region and want to work with all regional partners in this endeavour,” the diplomat said.

On Indo-Australian ties, he said, India is a “natural partner” for Australia. “Its growing and strategic heft is being felt beyond the Indian Ocean, creating new opportunities for our cooperation based on shared values and outlook,” he added.

“As the Australia-India relationship continues to grow we are looking to further build our cooperation across the Indo-Pacific in a range of areas,” the deputy high commissioner said.

Emphasising on bilateral ties, he also said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will soon be in New Delhi to give the keynote speech at the upcoming Raisina Dialogue.

“As the Australia-India relationship continues to grow we are looking to further build our cooperation across the Indo-Pacific in a range of areas,” he said.

The first area is joint efforts to shape an open, inclusive and rules-based maritime order in the Indo-Pacific. Australia and India both have large maritime zones in the Indian Ocean and significant naval capabilities. Both countries are strong supporters of UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), he said.

“We are working together to strengthen the rules-based order in regional forums such as IORA (Indian Ocean Rim Association), the ASEAN Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit.

“If countries like Australia and India can find ways to take forward the potential of our relationship we can shape the regional order, respond to uncertainty and bring about shared prosperity and security,” Hilton said. PTI