Hillary Clinton encourages Australia-India relationship

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has lauded Australia’s burgeoning relationship with India and encouraged Australia to deepen its military co-operation – including through joint-naval exercises – with the world’s largest democracy.

In her first remarks on a visit to Perth for high-level talks with the Gillard government, Mrs Clinton gave China relatively short shrift in her speech at the University of Western Australia, saying only that “we look for ways to support the peaceful rise of China”.

Mrs Clinton is in Perth for AUSMIN, where she will discuss deepening co-operation between Australia and the US as her nation looks to “pivot” its strategic focus to Asia. US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta is also in the city for the talks Wednesday with Australia’s Defence Minister Stephen Smith and Foreign Minister Bob Carr.

Hailing India as the “world’s largest democracy and a dynamic emerging economy”, Mrs Clinton welcomed Australia’s “burgeoning relationship” with the country.

“We would welcome joint Australia-Indian naval vessel exercises in the future and we’re eager to work together in the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Co-operation,” she said, referring to the grouping of 19 Indian rim nations.

She also said the US had made a strategic priority of encouraging Delhi to play a larger role in world affairs.

Earlier, Mr Smith spoke enthusiastically about the key strategic role the Indian Ocean would play in future global affairs as he flagged that Wednesday’s talks would include preliminary discussion of greater US naval access to Perth’s HMAS Stirling base.

Mrs Clinton took up the same theme, saying of the Indian Ocean: “Increasingly, these waters are at the heart of the global economy and a key focus of America’s expanding engagement in the region – what we sometimes call our pivot to Asia.”

By contrast with India, Mrs Clinton spoke only briefly of China, Australia’s largest trading partner.

“We look for ways to support the peaceful rise of China, to support China becoming a responsible stakeholder in the international community,” she said.

“And (we) hope to see gradual but consistent opening up of a Chinese society and political system that will more closely give the Chinese people the opportunities that we in the United States and Australia are lucky to take for granted.”

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