ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
A decade-long moratorium on new member states expires this year and leaders of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum are expected to discuss plans for expansion during their September 8-9 meeting here.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who will host leaders including US President George W. Bush, Russia's Vladimir Putin and China's Hu Jintao, has strongly backed New Delhi's bid to join.
But he has suggested this year's meeting will merely extend the moratorium until 2010, rather than welcome nations such as Sri Lanka, Colombia and India.
"My position is very clear. The inclusion of India is highly desirable. India is a presence to be noted, respected and responded to," Howard said last week, adding he had been unsuccessful in getting it a place at the Sydney table.
"Unfortunately, new membership is by consensus and there wasn't a consensus available for this meeting."
India has long been interested in joining APEC, which was established in 1989, and believes its geographical location, trade and investment interaction and the size of its economy all strengthen its bid.
"India's interest in gaining APEC membership was expressed long ago and that continues," a senior Indian foreign ministry official said.
"What we hear from our Australian counterparts is that the moratorium is likely to be extended further as there is no consensus on adding new members."
Wollongong University's Sandy Gordon, a long-time India watcher, said while some APEC leaders wanted to include the subcontinent, the group was likely to take a cautious approach to new membership.
"I think what they might say is, 'It's too hard now, we will look at it again in two years," Gordon told AFP.
India's supporters say the so-called 'New Delhi trade express' is too big to be ignored by a forum that includes many smaller nations such as Papua New Guinea and Peru.
"If you were to admit India I think you would have a critical mass," Gordon said.
"It would revitalise APEC as a major leaders' summit and to continue without India would (allow it to) be overshadowed by groups like EAS (East Asia Summit)."
Gordon said the primary reason to include India was its economic clout but it would also add weight to global APEC initiatives, such as climate change policies.
"If you are going to really make progress in these areas then I think we've really got to have India up at the table," he said.
Michael McKinley, of the Australian National University's department of political science and international relations, said India's potential inclusion in APEC could also be seen as a move to contain the rising power of China.
Canberra is already reportedly considering including India in a security alliance with the United States and Japan in a move that could counter China's military might.
"I believe that the US is intent on containing China. It keeps denying it's engaging in a containment of China, but everything that it does points in that direction," McKinley said.
"So I do see it partly as a containment of China but also a balancing of China."
Gordon disagreed, saying while there have been calls for APEC to expand its reach to tackle broader, international problems, the organisation is fundamentally a trade body. Channel News Asia reports