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India, Australia resolve to deepen maritime security cooperation

Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi meeting the Australian Prime Minister, Mr. Anthony Albanese at Hyderabad House, in New Delhi on March 10, 2023. (Photo: PIB)

NEW DELHI (PTI): India and Australia have vowed to strengthen their defence and security partnership to address the shared challenges and work towards an open, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific, a region that has witnessed growing Chinese military muscle-flexing.

Boosting overall bilateral defence cooperation, especially in the maritime sphere was a key takeaway of the talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Anthony Albanese at the first annual India-Australia Summit held in New Delhi on Friday.

"The Prime Ministers agreed that, as a practical step, India and Australia may continue to explore conduct of aircraft deployments from each other's territories to build operational familiarity and enhance maritime domain awareness," a joint statement following the Modi-Albanese talks said.

It said PM Modi and PM Albanese renewed their commitment to supporting an open, inclusive, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific where sovereignty and territorial integrity are respected.

The joint statement said Modi and Albanese reiterated the importance of adherence to international law, particularly the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to meet challenges to the rules-based order, including in the South China Sea.

There have been growing global concerns over China's military offensive in the South China Sea.

PM Modi and PM Albanese underscored the importance of disputes being resolved peacefully in accordance with international law without threat or use of force or any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo, the statement said, in an oblique reference to Chinese activities in the region.

"They called for any Code of Conduct in the South China Sea to be effective, substantive and fully consistent with international law, without prejudice to the legitimate rights and interests of any state, including those not party to these negotiations, and support existing inclusive regional architecture," it said.

The joint statement said the two Prime Ministers recognised their shared commitment to an Indian Ocean Region that was open, stable, prosperous, and respectful of sovereignty.

"In recognition of India and Australia's robust maritime partnership, the Prime Ministers welcomed that Australia would host exercise ‘Malabar’ in 2023 for the first time," it said.

Besides India and Australia, the Malabar exercise involves navies of Japan and the US.

The joint statement said PM Modi and PM Albanese reiterated their commitment to strengthening cooperation through the QUAD and looked forward to continuing to work together with other partners in the Indo-Pacific to advance their shared vision for a region that is free, open, inclusive.

"Prime Minister Albanese looked forward to working closely with India to advance the QUAD's positive and practical agenda, including welcoming Prime Minister Modi to Australia for the 2023 Quad Leaders' Summit," it said.

After the talks, Modi and Albanese also said that the two sides are on course to firm up a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement (CECA) as well as a migration and mobility pact that is expected to benefit students and professionals.

"I welcome significant and ambitious progress under the defence and security pillar of our relationship," PM Albanese said in his media statement. "Prime Minister Modi and I discussed the increasingly uncertain global security environment and committed to strengthening the Australia-India defence and security partnership to address shared challenges and work towards an open, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific," he said.

In his media statement, PM Modi described security cooperation as an important pillar of India-Australia comprehensive strategic partnership. "Today, we had a detailed discussion on maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region, and increasing mutual defence and security cooperation. In the field of defence, we have made remarkable agreements in the last few years, including logistics support for each other's armed forces," Modi said.

"There is also a regular and useful exchange of information between our security agencies, and we discussed on further strengthening this," he said.

An Australian readout said the two leaders agreed to strengthen the defence and security partnership between the two sides in support of both nations' shared ambition for an open, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific.

It said the two leaders welcomed Australia hosting of exercise Malabar this year for the first time.

At a media briefing, Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said PM Modi encouraged PM Albanese to avail the opportunities in the defence manufacturing sector under India's 'Make in India' initiative.

"The leaders also appreciated the considerable progress that has taken place in the field of defence and security cooperation. In this context, Prime Minister Modi encouraged the Prime Minister of Australia to avail of the full range of opportunities that are available in India deriving out of Make in India and Aatmanirbhar (self-reliant) programme for defence manufacturing," he said.

Albanese said he was proud of the deep and vibrant ties between Australia and India.

"My visit has strengthened the already close relationship that Australia enjoys with India, a key partner and good friend in the Indo-Pacific," he said.

"Building a stronger partnership with India will deliver tangible benefits for Australia in trade and investment, education, renewable energy, defence and security, and culture," he added.

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