New Delhi: Defence ministers of India and Australia on Wednesday carried out a comprehensive review of strategic challenges and the regional security matrix and reaffirmed their shared objective of an open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific, a region that has been witnessing growing Chinese bullying.
In their talks, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his Australian counterpart Richard Marles explored industrial cooperation in the defence manufacturing sector as well as ways to enhance capabilities of their militaries.
Marles is on a four-day visit to India from Monday amid geo-political upheavals triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Ukraine crisis is understood to have figured in the talks.
Australia is a key partner of India and the strategic cooperation between the two sides has been on an upswing, both bilaterally as well as under the framework of the Quad or Quadrilateral coalition.
A joint press statement released after the talks said Singh and Marles welcomed the plan to commence the landmark Gen Rawat Young Officer Exchange Programme in the latter half of 2022.
The programme was announced during the virtual summit between the prime ministers of the two countries in March in honour of India’s first Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat who died in a helicopter crash December last.
“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 region,” the statement said.
It said they also looked forward to India’s participation in Australia’s ‘Indo-Pacific Endeavour’ exercise in October.
“The ministers reviewed the defence and security pillars of the India-Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership,” according to the statement.
It said Singh and Marles reaffirmed their commitment towards implementation of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership based on “mutual trust and understanding, common interests and shared values of democracy and rule of law.
“They welcomed the growing diversity and frequency of defence exercises and exchanges between the two countries and undertook to build upon operational engagements through the India-Australia mutual logistics support arrangement,” it said.
The ties between India and Australia have been on an upswing in the last few years.
In April, the two countries inked a trade pact to diversify bilateral trade.
In June 2020, India and Australia elevated their ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership and signed a landmark deal for reciprocal access to military bases for logistics support.
The Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) allows the militaries of the two countries to use each other’s bases for repair and replenishment of supplies, besides facilitating scaling up of overall defence cooperation.
The Australian Navy was part of the Malabar naval exercise hosted by India in November 2020 as well as last year.