Beijing is expected to closely monitor the expansion of strategic cooperation between India and Australia, at a time when China is making serious attempts to increase its influence in the Indian Ocean region.
India and Australia on Tuesday stitched up a framework for security cooperation involving annual meeting of Prime Ministers, regular meeting of defence ministers, annual defence policy talks, regular joint naval manoeuvres and cooperation in defence research and development.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott reaffirmed that the strategic partnership was based on "converging political, economic and strategic interests." The Australian media reported that the confirmation of the security framework came only after Chinese President Xi Jinping had left Canberra.
Kanwal Sibal, a former foreign secretary, said the development was a sign that India was not shying away from pursuing a strategy aimed at protecting the region from China's unpredictable actions as its influence grew. "The Modi government is playing its cards astutely. While India is taking steps to improve economic ties with China, it is also pursuing a strategy aimed at checking China. It's a wise approach," Sibal told HT.
He said joint statements issued during Modi's visits to Japan and the US had made it sufficiently clear that bilateral understandings (with Tokyo and Washington) were to be extended to other countries in the region. "Clearly, Australia was in mind," he said.
The framework lays out an elaborate "action plan" covering high-level East Asia talks, top-level military exchanges, joint training and counter-terrorism cooperation.
"This is a natural partnership arising from our shared values and interests, and our strategic maritime locations," Modi said at a joint press conference with Abbott in Canberra.
Defence analyst Lieutenant General BS Jaswal (retd) said regional cooperation was crucial to thwart China's designs in the region. "Beijing's hegemonic attitude will continue if not checked," Jaswal said. China has been distrustful of the "quad" formed by the US, India, Australia and Japan and has objected to joint military drills involving the four nations.
China has set up a network of ports/facilities in Bangladesh (Chittagong), Myanmar (Sittwe and Coco Island), Sri Lanka (Hambantota), Pakistan (Gwadar) and has also secured docking rights in Seychelles, in what some experts describe as the culmination of the 'String-of-Pearls' strategy to encircle India and dilute its influence in the region.