Stand-off along LAC is for India, China to resolve: Australia envoy
In an online media briefing ahead of the June 4 virtual summit between Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, Australian high commissioner Barry O’Farrell said his country’s foreign policy is set by its national interests, including a desire for stability in the South China Sea.Updated: Jun 02, 2020 07:35 IST
Against the backdrop of a standoff between border troops of India and China, Australia on Monday said it was for the two countries to resolve the face-off as no third country could interfere in the matter.
In an online media briefing ahead of the June 4 virtual summit between Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, Australian high commissioner Barry O’Farrell said his country’s foreign policy is set by its national interests, including a desire for stability in the South China Sea.
O’Farrell reiterated Australia’s support for India’s call for the reform of multilateral bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) so that they are better placed to deal with future challenges and crises.
Asked specifically about the India-China standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and whether such issues would figure in the upcoming summit, the envoy replied: “In relation to the border issue, that’s a matter for China and India to resolve and not a matter for Australia to interfere with.”
In an apparent reference to the US president’s attempts to mediate in the matter, which have already been rebuffed by India, O’Farrell added: “That’s reflected by what we’ve seen over the past week, when others have sought to suggest that they could step in and provide some advice. Clearly it’s going to be a matter that India and China will resolve.”
Australia, he said, has a “substantial interest in stability and adherence to international law” in the South China Sea, where it is “concerned about the militarisation of disputed features” and has urged all parties to take meaningful steps to ease tensions.
While Australian vessels and aircraft will continue to exercise their rights to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, all claims in that region should be resolved according to international law, and the “most sensible place” to resolve such matters is the UN, he said.
The virtual summit, organised after Morrison called off a visit to India in January because of bushfires in Australia and also due to the impact on the Covid-19 crisis, is expected to see the signing of several agreements, including the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) for reciprocal access to military logistics facilities.
O’Farrell said the summit is also expected to advance an ambitious agenda that will include working together to improve regional and multilateral institutions, including on Covid-19 and public health, boosting science and tech cooperation, stronger collaboration on cyber-security and critical technology, maritime issues in the Indo-Pacific, critical mineral supply chains, education, and water resource management.
“It’s as crucial as ever for like-minded democracies and important partners like Australia and India, at this time, work together to shape the type of region and type of world in which we want to live presently but importantly, post-Covid,” he said.
India and Australia are committed to a free, open, inclusive and secure Indo-Pacific and strengthening and making their economies more resilient, have a shared goal of strengthening international institutions, he added.
“I think there are many opportunities for India and Australia to assist each other’s supply chains. We support India’s policy of Make in India…but we have elements and resources that can strengthen and make more resilient the supply chain here in India,” O’Farrell said.
The MLSA will make it easier for the militaries of both countries to conduct complex exercises and facilitate access to each other’s bases. Asked if Australia still hopes to be part of the Malabar naval exercise conducted by India, the US and Japan, the envoy replied: “Would we like to join Malabar? Yes, but we recognise that’s a matter for the partners who run the exercise to decide.”
Defence ties between Australia and India, he said, are at a historic peak and activities had quadrupled in the past six years. The two sides also have a shared commitment as Indian Ocean powers and an obligation to secure a free and inclusive Indo-Pacific, he added.
“That alone is going to ensure that our defence relationship in this part of the world is maintained,” O’Farrell said, adding last year’s edition of AusIndex, a bilateral naval exercise, witnessed Australia’s largest ever military deployment to India and MLSA will assist in future submarine patrols in the Bay of Bengal.