New Delhi: British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab Wednesday said that the UK has not ruled out the option of joining the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, also known as Quad, in a post-Brexit era. Quad is an informal strategic forum between India, US, Japan and Australia.
Raab, who is on a three-day visit to India, also said that the UK was focussed on furthering “tangible” progress with India as far as trade and business was concerned. He, however, said all these issues will be discussed at length during British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s visit to India next month.
“Rise of China provides a strategic context alongside the wider growth of the emerging and market economies in Southeast Asia and far east. There are opportunities there but there are also challenges and that’s all part of the Indo-Pacific tilt, which is basically to be more engaged across the region but also managing some of the challenges and pressures,” Raab said, addressing a select group of journalists while leaving for Bengaluru.
The British foreign secretary said India will be a major strategic partner when the UK begins to look towards the Indo-Pacific region. For now, however, Britain was focussed on achieving some of the more immediate objectives in terms of trade and business as it comes out of the European Union.
The transition period for the UK to come out of the economic bloc, popularly called as the ‘Brexit’, expires on 31 December.
“We had discussion on all important issues such as the Quad and other bilateral engagements and I think there is nothing ruled out at this stage. I think we all want to think strategically but we also really need to look at the tangible cooperation that we can do…We told our friends in India to look at the practical things we do together,” he added.
Raab also said that during his conversations with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, issues concerning the six-month border standoff between India and China at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh were also discussed.
In the backdrop of the ongoing tensions between India and China, the UK is also planning to operate HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier Strike Group in the Indo-Pacific region next year, as it gears up for an “Indo-Pacific tilt”.
During his meeting with PM Modi earlier in the day, both sides also discussed the potential of a India-UK partnership in the “post-Covid and post-Brexit world”. India’s Serum Institute is poised to make over a billion doses of the coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca.
Raab also said that discussions were held on the list of Indian fugitives that are currently living in the UK, including liquor baron Vijay Mallya and diamantaire Nirav Modi.
When asked for an update on the list of 60 fugitives that India had handed over to Britain in 2017, Raab said, “We’ve always had discussions on any issues concerned. We have bilateral MoUs mentioning this issue. There are still some legal issues outstanding, they are independent from politics … But we would like to see those expedited as soon as possible.”
The ongoing farmers agitation was also discussed, said Raab, since it is linked to the Indian diaspora in his country. He, however, said that it was India’s internal matter to push through reforms in the agricultural sector.
“I think India, as well as having a market-driven economy, also has a vibrant heritage of peaceful protests and vigorous debate. And we watched that with interest and we respect it,” he said.
‘Aiming for high ambitions with India’
Raab also said that discussions were held to enhance trading relationship between India and the UK. Britain is aggressively looking to clinch trade deals with countries in order to stabilise its economy, as it leaves the European Union.
The UK has so far signed free trade pacts with Japan, Vietnam and South Korea. Despite push by the UK, the Modi government is yet to begin talks on a trade pact with the country.
“Our level of ambition is high…We have a long list of tangible things,” Raab said, even as he hinted that the main decision on the trade pact will be taken during PM Johnson’s India visit.
The British foreign secretary also said that the UK was looking to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTTP) for “wider trade and investment opportunities” in the Indo-Pacific region.