CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia denied on Friday it was pushing for a joint security pact with India and the United States, a tie-up that would likely add to China’s fears that wary neighbors were trying to encircle it.
Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd was quoted in an interview with the Australian Financial Review newspaper this week as backing the idea of a trilateral security pact.
But a Rudd spokeswoman said he had been misinterpreted and had been responding to a question on the likely overturning soon of an Australian ban on uranium exports to India.
“The question that was answered was what the Indian response had been to a shift on uranium policy. It had nothing to do with anything else,” she said.
Rudd was overseas and neither he not the newspaper could be reached for comment.
The idea of an Australian, Indian and U.S. security dialogue -- in part to counter China’s rising naval power -- has been strongly pushed by a trio of influential think-tanks in all three countries, but has yet to be adopted by any government.
A four-way security pact proposed by the United States in 2007 which would have drawn Australia, the United States, Japan and India together disintegrated when Japan and India floated concerns that it would look like an attempt to encircle China.
India’s foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement on the ministry website that New Delhi was “not aware of any such proposal”, while China’s military denounced the United States and Australia for recently upgrading military ties, warning such moves could erode trust and fan Cold War-era antagonism.
China is Australia’s biggest trading partner, with two-way trade in 2010 worth A$105 billion ($107 billion), up almost 24 percent on the previous year and driven by energy-hungry Chinese demand for Australian resources.
Australia, a close U.S. ally, also agreed last month to host a de facto U.S. base in the north of the country which would provide military reach into southeast Asia and the South China Sea, where China is involved in disputes with several other states over sovereignty.
Australia’s ruling Labor Party is expected to vote over the to drop a longstanding ban on uranium sales to non-Nuclear Proliferation Treaty countries like India in a bid to boost exports and improve security ties with New Delhi.
Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Ed Davies and Jonathan Thatcher