India has rejected the US’ proposal to hold a quadrilateral security dialogue with Japan and Australia in the near future.

In what could annoy China, the US planned to start the quadrilateral dialogue with India, Japan and Australia. Delivering a keynote address in ‘Raisina Dialogue’ – an international conference on geopolitics jointly organised by the Ministry of External Affairs and Observer Research Foundation – in New Delhi earlier this week, Commander of US Pacific Command Admiral Harry B Harris said that the growing maritime assertiveness by China in Indian Ocean region prompted Washington to prepare such a plan.

Admiral Harris also said that it is important for the US, India, Japan and Australia to take a ‘united stand’ against Chinese activities in the Indian Ocean. He opined that an international rules-based order could only ensure peace in this region. He also announced that the next Malabar Naval exercise would take place in north of Philippine Sea, saying that the US was ready to build greater synergy with India, Australia and Japan in maritime domain.

Expressing serious concerns over escalation of territorial disputes in the South China Sea, Admiral Harris said that the four friendly nations would never allow China to deploy surface-to-air missiles in one of the disputed islands in the region and to pose security threats to neighbouring Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Admiral Harris stressed that the US needed India’s leadership in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, where security challenges were significant. According to him, the situation could not be tackled by any country alone. He further assured the international community that India and the US would ensure free and open sea lanes of communication (currently critical for global trade), saying: “This is a pillar of the international and inclusive rules-based global order and a principle upon which we cannot waiver.”

Earlier, India advised its northern neighbour not to take any “unilateral action” in the region. India and the US also prepared a roadmap for greater maritime co-operation in Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean regions. New Delhi and Washington even decided to join hands with Tokyo and Canberra to counter Beijing’s growing activities.

However, India has ruled out the possibility of holding the quadrilateral security dialogue with the US, Australia and Japan as a counter to China’s aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea and elsewhere. India has also rejected US proposal for joint patrolling of the Asia-Pacific region. New Delhi made clear that it would participate only in the Malabar naval exercise with the US and Japan, off the Japanese coast in the Pacific, in June-July.

Addressing a press conference in the Indian capital on Friday, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said: “Till now, India has never participated in joint patrolling. We do participate in joint exercises. So, the question of joint patrolling at this stage does not arise.” He clarified India’s stand on the South China Sea dispute, saying that the South Asian country has positioned itself as a “neutral player” in the ongoing geopolitical jostling between China and the US. According to the minister, (right now) it is important for India to conclude the Rafale deal with France. Only after signing the long-pending mega contract for acquisition of 36 French Rafale fighters, India will concentrate on the South China Sea.

As far as the Rafale deal is concerned, India is trying to drive a hard bargain to get a better deal. After the Narendra Modi-François Hollande summit in Paris in April 2015, India and France announced that the deal would be worth around EUR 8 billion (or INR 600,000,000,000). However, Parrikar said that he, as a tough negotiator, would try to save money for India. “Good buyers do not disclose their weaknesses upfront and play with their cards close to their chests,” the minister told the press, indicating that the price would be fixed on the basis of support and spares package finalised during the ongoing negotiations.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]