India and Australia on Wednesday reiterated that maritime security and freedom of navigation in accordance with principles of international law were critical for the growth of the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions.
The two countries agreed to enhance maritime cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region bilaterally and multilaterally, at a time when Beijing is making attempts to spread its arc of influence in the Indian Ocean region (IOR).
As reported by HT on April 7, a classified Indian defence ministry document had flagged concerns about an increasing number of Chinese submarines venturing into the IOR and posing a danger to India’s security interests.
At least 22 contacts were recorded with suspected Chinese attack subs last year.
In a joint statement issued after talks between defence minister AK Antony and his Australian counterpart Stephen Smith in Canberra, the two sides agreed to work out the contours of a bilateral maritime exercise in 2015. Antony is the first Indian defence minister to visit Australia.
China has been suspicious of growing strategic relations between India and countries in the Indo-pacific region and it has in the past raised concerns about India roping Australia into bilateral naval exercises with the US.
India’s deepening diplomatic engagement with Australian comes at a time when Beijing's aggressive posturing in the resource-rich South China Sea has shifted global attention to the Asia-Pacific region.
The Chinese government had last year declared its authority to board ships for search and seizure in those waters.
“The two leaders exchanged ideas concerning regional and international security as well as defence cooperation and exchanges between the two sides," said the joint statement.
India also accepted Australia's invitation to take part in the International Fleet Review to be held in Sydney in October 2013. Both ministers agreed to have regular bilateral defence ministers’ meetings and to promote exchanges between their armed forces.