Australia To Host Indian Ocean Rim Stakeholders’ Meeting

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Summit expected to address ‘simmering’ maritime issues

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Oct. 31, 2013) – Tensions in the East China Sea are expected to be high on the agenda as Australia hosts representatives from the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation in Perth later this week.

Australia's new Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will as the host representatives from 20 countries, including India, Indonesia and Thailand.

Ms. Bishop has told Australia Network's Newsline the meeting is expected to address a range of issues simmering in the region.

"I believe that this meeting of foreign ministers and senior officials from these 20 member countries will put the Indian Ocean Rim firmly on the foreign policy agenda," she said.

In their first month in government, Ms. Bishop and Prime Minister Tony Abbott have been busy meeting key allies throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

As one of Australia's best friends, Japan's dispute with Australia's number one trading partner, China, is one of the regional issues raising concerns.

The two are locked in a dispute with Japan over a handful of rocky outcrops in the East China Sea, known in Japan as the Senkakus and in China as the Diaouyu Islands.

The war of words escalated earlier this week, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe saying Tokyo is prepared to be more assertive towards Beijing, and China warning that if Japan carried out its threat to shoot down foreign drones, it would be an act of war.

Julie Bishop is encouraging Japan to explain their need for an expanded defence posture.

"We need to ensure that there's an understanding between countries as to why a country would or would not be increasing the size or decreasing the size of its military," she said.

"And in the case of China, we've got to continue to discuss with them what they're doing and what their military capability is."

Ms. Bishop is also eager to normalise relations with Fiji after years of mistrust in the wake of the military-led coup by Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

Australia's last high commissioner, James Batley, was forced to leave Fiji after accusations he was meddling in local politics, and Ms. Bishop has not detailed a time-frame for Australia to restore diplomatic representation.

She says talks with her Fijian counterpart, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, in Sydney this week showed a common desire to restore ties.

"We want to move on from the era that was set under the former Labor government," she said.

"We want to normalise our relations with Fiji in military, economic, trade, investment - a whole range of areas where we believe Australia and Fiji can be natural partners."

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