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Delhi to hold maritime talks with China, Russia

(From left) A file photo of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

New Delhi: India will hold discussions with China and Russia, besides others, to widen the ambit of dialogue and put to rest the doubts on the potential for a Quad of democracies in the Indo-Pacific, challenging Beijing’s and Moscow’s dominance in the region.

The discussions with China, under the maritime dialogue framework—the second such meet after 2016 —will look to address Beijing’s concerns over the informal strategic dialogue between India, Australia, Japan and the US on the Indo-Pacific, said one person familiar with the development, adding that the talks with Russia will also be along similar lines.

India was also planning to hold talks with South-East Asian and East African nations, given that it considers the vast swathes of land and ocean between East Africa and the West Coast of the US, as part of the Indo-Pacific region.

New Delhi has already set in motion a process to improve ties with both Russia and China. Between April and May, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held informal summits with both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Ties with both countries were frayed given India’s warming ties with the US. The 73-day tense military stand-off between Indian and Chinese troops at the Doklam plateau in Bhutan was a low point in bilateral relations between Beijing and New Delhi.

“We will have maritime dialogues with China and Russia in the coming months. Our effort is to work out in some more detail and to see how we can get coherence in the Indo-Pacific community about Indo-Pacific as a concept,” the person cited above said, requesting anonymity.

Addressing the defence and security forum in Singapore on 1 June, Modi had said that “India does not see the Indo-Pacific region as a strategy or as a club of limited members”. According to the person cited above, India had never been publically critical of Chinese posturing in the Indo-Pacific region, despite reports of China building and militarising islands in the South China Sea.

“What we have essentially said is that we would like a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific because it is important for navigation, and for connectivity.” The person said that India will be looking for a “positive discussion” with China.

At a second meeting of the “Quad” countries in Singapore last month, “there was a general agreement that we should work with all countries and try and explain that the concept of the Indo-Pacific is not directed against any country. In that regard some special effort has to be made towards the doubters,” the person cited above said.

Those with questions on the concept of the Indo-Pacific, included Southeast Asian countries and several East African nations, the person said noting that there was already an Indian Ocean Rim Association, which includes 21 countries along the Indian Ocean. “There is an Indian Ocean Rim Association exclusive to the Indian Ocean. We have to tie that into the Indo-Pacific concept,” he said, adding that India would have dialogues with all countries over the next six to eight months.

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