‘Shared objective’: India, Australia reaffirm defence and strategic cooperation

Updated on Jun 22, 2022 04:16 PM IST

There has been a significant increase in defence cooperation between India and Australia in recent years, including the signing of the Mutual Logistics Support Arrangement in 2020

Union defence minister Rajnath Singh (right) with Australian deputy prime minister Richard Marles in New Delhi on Wednesday. (PIB Photo)
Union defence minister Rajnath Singh (right) with Australian deputy prime minister Richard Marles in New Delhi on Wednesday. (PIB Photo)

Australia’s new government reiterated its commitment to the strategic partnership with India by agreeing on Wednesday to work jointly on the shared objective of a free and open Indo-Pacific and to boost cooperation between the defence industries of the two sides.

Visiting Australian deputy prime minister and defence minister Richard Marles met Union defence minister Rajnath Singh and reviewed the ongoing defence cooperation, which both sides said has increased despite challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, and also discussed ways to enhance collaboration.

Marles is the first senior member of the new Australian government to visit India. Ahead of his arrival in the country on Monday, he described India as “one of Australia’s closest security partners”. His visit, less than a month after the formation of the new government in Canberra, reflects the importance attached by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to ties with India.

The defence ministers discussed opportunities for industrial cooperation between the two countries to “increase the resilience of supply chains and deliver capabilities to their respective defence forces”, according to a joint press statement. They agreed to explore ways to “grow connections and opportunities between Indian and Australian defence industrial bases”.

Singh and Marles committed to give a fillip to a bilateral joint working group (JWG) on defence research and material cooperation, which will meet in Australia later this year. The JWG was described as a crucial mechanism for boosting ties between their defence industries.

The ministers reviewed strategic challenges and the regional security situation, and reaffirmed their “shared objective of an open, free, inclusive, prosperous and rules-based Indo-Pacific”. They also discussed India’s participation in Australia’s Indo-Pacific Endeavour military exercise in October.

Singh tweeted saying he and Marles reviewed the range of defence and strategic cooperation and paved the way for deepening it. Describing Australia as a close and trusted partner, he said bilateral defence cooperation is an important pillar of the comprehensive strategic partnership. “Our close partnership is an important factor of stability in the Indo-Pacific region,” he added.

Marles described his talks with Singh as an “excellent first meeting” that was instrumental in advancing defence ties. “We discussed our defence partnership & our shared ambition to ensure a secure, prosperous & resilient #IndoPacific,” he said in a tweet.

Singh and Marles reviewed the defence and security pillars of the bilateral comprehensive strategic partnership, including the growing diversity and frequency of defence exercises and exchanges between the two sides. They agreed to build on operational engagements through the Mutual Logistics Support Arrangement (MLSA).

The ministers also welcomed the plan to begin a young officer exchange programme, named after late Indian chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat, in the latter half of 2022. The programme was announced at a virtual summit of the prime ministers of the two countries in March.

On Tuesday, Marles met external affairs minister S Jaishankar, who tweeted that they had agreed on the importance of strengthening the strategic partnership to address contemporary challenges. “Growing security cooperation has been a key facet of our expanding ties,” Jaishankar said.

Marles said in a tweet he and Jaishankar – “a great friend of Australia” – discussed a range of issues, including the “shared commitment to build together a stronger & resilient #IndoPacific”.

The Australian minister visited the National War Memorial earlier in the day and paid homage to India’s war heroes. He was given a ceremonial guard of honour before his meeting with Singh.

Marles began his visit to India on Monday by travelling to Goa, where he toured a state-run shipyard and was briefed on India’s capabilities in indigenous drone development and autonomous vehicle technology.

There has been a significant increase in defence cooperation between India and Australia in recent years, including the signing of the MLSA in 2020, which allows both sides to access each other’s military bases for logistical support. This cooperation has also been driven by shared concerns about China’s behaviour in the region.

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