NEW DELHI: India and Australia on Wednesday resolved to further crank up their defence ties through combat exercises, intelligence-sharing, reciprocal logistics and military-industrial collaboration as well as work steadfastly towards their shared objective of an open, resilient and secure Indo-Pacific in the face of aggressive moves by China.
Australian deputy PM and defence minister Richard Marles, in the first high-level visit to India since the new Anthony Albanese government came to power in Canberra, strongly backed India in its over two-year long military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh.
“The assault on Indian forces along the Line of Actual Control in 2020 was a warning we should all heed. Australia stood up for India’s sovereignty then and continues to do so now,” Marles said.
China’s recent security pact with strategically-located archipelago Solomon Islands in the Pacific and its expansionist moves in the South China Sea also figured in the extensive talks with the Indian delegation led by defence minister Rajnath Singh.
“The two sides also discussed ways to expand maritime and other cooperation in the Indian Ocean and the larger Indo-Pacific region, bilaterally as well as tri-laterally with some ASEAN countries,” an official said.
Speaking later at the National Defence College, Marles warned China’s military build-up is “the largest and most ambitious” by any country since World War-II, which was unsettling for its neighbours as well as others in the absence of transparency.
It is “vital” that China commits to resolving the dispute in eastern Ladakh through a process of dialogue consistent with international law. “The global rules-based order matters everywhere, including in the highest place on earth,” he added.
Marles, who also met external affairs minister S Jaishankar, said Australia was committed to placing India at the `heart’ of his country’s approach to the Indo-Pacific and beyond.
Singh, in turn, said the close defence and security cooperation between India and Australia was an important pillar of the bilateral comprehensive strategic partnership and crucial for stability in the Indo-Pacific.
The two ministers welcomed the growing diversity and frequency of bilateral military exercises and exchanges, which will include India’s participation in Australia’s Indo Pacific Endeavour exercise in October this year.
They also undertook to build upon operational engagements through the bilateral Mutual Logistics Support Arrangement (MLSA), which provides for refuelling and berthing facilities for each other’s warships and aircraft. India has such reciprocal military logistics pact with the US, Australia, Japan, France, South Korea and Singapore as well.
The joint working group on defence research and materiel cooperation, which will meet in Australia later this year, will also receive a boost. “This JWG is a crucial mechanism for boosting ties between the defence industries. Areas like AI, cyber, space, quantum and drones were identified as possible areas for cooperation,” an official said.
The two countries in recent years have stepped up their military engagements in tune with their shared strategic interests, with Australia also becoming a regular participant in India’s Malabar naval exercise with the US and Japan. With an eye firmly on China, the `Quad’ countries have declared their intent to deter any “coercion” in the Indo-Pacific.
The Quad countries have also launched a number of initiatives to enhance cooperation across the region, which range from maritime domain awareness and cyber-security to securing supply chains in semiconductors, 5G telecom telecommunication technologies and other critical areas.