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US, Japan, Australia keen to engage India more closely PDF Print E-mail

© Neena Bhandari, Indo Asian News Service

Sydney, Sep 8 (IANS) The rising economic power and influence of India in the region figured in trilateral talks between the US, Australia and Japan Saturday as they discussed ways to engage India more closely.

President George W. Bush and prime ministers John Howard and Shinzo Abe met ahead of the day's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders meeting. And discussion about India dominated the breakfast meeting.

Also present at the meet were Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and US Trade Representative Susan Schwab.

Downer told reporters: "There was a lot of discussion about India, a lot of optimism about India, the importance of strengthening our relations with India. There's a recognition now that India is a coming great power. It's the world's largest democracy, its economy is growing at a rapid rate ... and it's a country that we're all feeling increasingly comfortable working with."

He added: "It was an opportunity to talk about a range of different issues but certainly to focus on India and the importance of that country to us in the Asia-Pacific region and broader geopolitics of the region."

Earlier in the week, Downer had told IANS: "It is certainly my private view that APEC will benefit from India being a member, but from our discussions over the last three months, there has certainly not been any emerging consensus for expanding the membership of the APEC."

As the APEC host, Australia had assured China that the trilateral meeting was not aimed at trying to contain its growing might, but Beijing may not be very pleased to hear that the meeting focussed on its potential rival in the region, India.

However, leaders at the Sydney APEC summit are unlikely to lift the moratorium on including new members and India will not be included in the club any time soon. Downer said: "We are looking more in a general sense at progressing the relationship.

"One of the reasons for that is I think there are 11 applicants for APEC membership, India is one...It's quite a long list and I think there is a consensus that if you were to bring one in, you'd have to bring others to balance it up."

Earlier, five protesters were arrested and two policemen injured in the main anti-APEC protest march in the heavily fortified Central Business District of Sydney. An estimated 5,000 people participated in the peaceful rally demanding an end to the Iraq war, to poverty and for a serious commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions.


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