June 5, 2013

India, Australia to strengthen defence ties

India and Australia have decided to implement a slew of defence cooperation initiatives to further strengthen the strategic partnership between the two countries, which range from stepped up military exchanges and regular defence dialogues to maritime security and a joint naval combat exercise in 2015.

This came after defence minister A K Antony held extensive talks with his Australian counterpart Stephen Smith in Perth and Canberra on June 4 and 5.

"The two ministers acknowledged the deepening bilateral strategic and defence cooperation. They agreed to continue to contribute to the peace, stability and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region and to promote cooperation in the Indian Ocean region (IOR)," said an official.

Though both countries are wary of China's expanding military might and its growing naval forays into the IOR, they are opposed to any multi-lateral strategic construct or axis in the Asia-Pacific which might be seen as a move to contain Beijing.

But in the backdrop of China's increasing assertiveness in the contentious South China Sea, where Beijing is locked in escalating maritime territorial disputes with its neighbours, India and Australia emphasised that mariritime security and freedom of navigation in accordance with principles of international law is critical for the growth and prosperity of the Asia Pacific and IOR.

In a joint statement issued after the Antony-Smith talks, the two countries agreed on six points to promote bilateral defence cooperation. One, to continue to have regular bilateral defence ministers' meetings. Two, to promote exchanges between the defence establishments and the armed forces of both sides, including through the regular conduct of the Defence Policy Dialogue, Armed Forces Staff Talks and professional military exchanges.

Three, to continue ongoing bilateral naval exchanges to build confidence and familiarity between the navies and work towards a bilateral maritime exercise in 2015. Four, to continue to cooperate in the Asia-Pacific region bilaterally and through various multilateral fora, including the East Asia Summit, ASEAN Regional Forum and ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus. Five, to enhance IOR cooperation, including through the framework and priorities of the IONS (Indian Ocean Naval Symposium) and the IOR-ARC. And six, to promote the sharing and exchange of professional knowledge and experiences through participation in training courses in each other's military training institutions. Antony also accepted Smith's invitation for the participation of Indian warships' in the International Fleet Review to be held in Sydney in October 2013.

The two ministers noted that both the countries are already cooperating through the IONS, which Australia will chair next year, along with hosting the IONS conclave of chiefs in Perth in March 2014, and the IOR-ARC of which India is currently chair and Australia the next chair. Earlier, speaking at a reception hosted for him at Perth, Antony said the defence cooperation between India and Australia has increased substantially in the last few years.

"India values its strategic partnership with Australia and is committed to further strengthening the bilateral relations in various areas including defence,'' he said.

Referring to the IOR, Antony said it was critical to India's maritime interests. The security of shipping along with sea-lanes is of vital interest to us,'' he said. Smith, in turn, said the 2013 Australian Defence White Paper outlines the profound strategic changes'' that are occurring as economic, strategic and military weight shifts to our part of the world'', the Indo-Pacific region. India and Australia have a shared interest in helping to address these strategic changes, including through defence collaboration,'' he said.
Times of India

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