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India, Australia could push for South China Sea conduct code: Bishop

IANS  |  New Delhi 

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Monday said her country wants to be the "partner of choice for India's energy security" and, with both countries sharing "similar views" on China's territorial ambitions and on unimpeded maritime rights, they could work together to push the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

Bishop, who is here to hold talks with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Tuesday, said Australia wants to be "a useful partner for India as it emerges on the world stage".

She said Canberra has been a reliable partner for China's economic growth and it wants to be "a close friend and strategic and economic partner for India, and be a partner of choice in India's energy security".

Answering questions on the sidelines of an event marking her address at the inaugural Indo-Pacific Oration, organized by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Bishop said she will be holding a "rather long meeting" with Sushma Swaraj on Tuesday during which regional and geo-strategic issues would figure.

"And I am sure we will discuss China's foreign policy which is more assertive than we have seen in the past."

She said that during her previous discussions with Sushma Swaraj, "I think we had similar views on China'd territorial ambitions; we don't take a decision on territorial plans, but we do urge all nations to respect international law, respect global norms and to resolve any territorial or maritime plans peacefully... there is far too much at stake for this to not occur."

With regard to the South China Sea, where China has been exhibiting increasing assertiveness over the maritime and island resources, Bishop said Australia supports the 10-member Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) grouping in wanting to conclude a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea with China which will govern maritime negotiations.

She said that if the Asean nations continue to work as one bloc then the status quo in the South China Sea will continue as "I can't see many of the maritime disputes (between individual Asean countries and China) being resolved soon; but a Code of Conduct will ensure maritime passageways".

Bishop, who is also deputy leader of the Liberal Party, said it is "important for Australia" and other countries in the region for "unimpeded maritime passageway and maritime access".

She said that in recent times China has exhibited a willingness to support the Code of Conduct process with the Asean.

"What India and Australia must do at the East Asia Summit is to continue to promote this position; and if we work together in this regard we can have more influence than working separately," she added.

Bishop also said that Australia is keen to sign the Free Trade Agreement, known as the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), with India soon.

She said that with the coming to power of the Narendra Modi government, there is "new energy about India". She said Modi's visit to Australia in last November and his warmth "made the wait worthwhile" for a bilateral prime ministerial visit from India. Modi was the first Indian prime minister to visit Australia since Rajiv Gandhi in 1986.

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First Published: Mon, April 13 2015. 17:48 IST