Senator Marise Payne, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop meet with Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe in Tokyo. KEN SHIMIZU
Australia and Japan are pushing to restart a controversial Howard-era security grouping with India and the United States, which angered China at the time as it was viewed as an effort to contain its influence in the region.
Defence Minister Marise Payne said the possible re-formation of the grouping would be raised during meetings her and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop were holding in Tokyo on Thursday.
"Australia is very interested in a quadrilateral engagement with India, Japan and the United States, what form that may take is a matter of discussion between our various countries," Ms Payne said.
"These are matters for consideration by governments."
It is understood Japan is leading discussions to restart what was previously called the "Quadrilateral Security Dialogue", but Australia is also strongly supportive of the push.
"All four countries agree it is a good idea it's just a matter of what form it takes," said one person involved in the discussions.
The source said the US was generally supportive of the idea, while India was yet to commit. They are debating whether it would be confined to defence co-operation or include a leaders' meeting or foreign ministers' dialogue.
Closer security arrangements between Australia and India were the subtext of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's recent visit to New Delhi, although the idea of the four-way dialogue was not explicitly mentioned.
"The strategic interests of our two nations are clearly converging," Mr Turnbull said in a speech during the visit in early April.
"Co-operation on regional stability sits squarely in the interests of both our nations."
Mr Turnbull and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also spoke of the need to uphold the rule of law in the region, which is diplomat language for pressuring China to behave responsibly around territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Australia's former Ambassador in Beijing, Geoff Raby, said any move to restart the grouping would be seen by China as a way to contain its rise.
"It is in no one's interest to set ideological fault lines across the region and if it is now the Australian government's policy to contain China then it is a major shift in our foreign policy stance," he said via phone.
"If this is a grouping of regional democracies, then why is South Korea or Taiwan not included?"
Mr Raby said the idea of reforming the group was "ill-judged", especially as it was being led by Japan, which has such a frosty relationship with China.
The four-way dialogue was initiated by Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, during his first term as leader, supported by former Prime Minister John Howard.
It quickly became a point of tension in Australia's relationship with China.
Kevin Rudd withdrew from the dialogue shortly after becoming Prime Minister in 2007, although the group was already foundering.
Japanese efforts to revive the group with the support of Australia form part of the Turnbull government's increasingly tough stance on China.
In a speech in Singapore last month, Ms Bishop said China could not expect to lead or shape the region as it was not a democracy.
"While non-democracies such as China can thrive when participating in the present system, an essential pillar of our preferred order is democratic community," she said.
Ms Bishop and Ms Payne are in Tokyo for the so called "2+2 dialogue", a bi-lateral meeting hosted by Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and defence minister Tomomi Inada.