Australia Moots Logistics Support Agreement With India To Widen Defence Partnership In Indo-Pacific Region
India and Australia are both increasing their support for economic governance and infrastructure across the Indo-Pacific. Australia and India both have large maritime zones in the Indian Ocean and significant naval capabilities
Australia and India can do more in global and regional responses to the threat of terrorism besides widening the scope of their Indo-Pacific partnership to stabilise Indian Ocean Region through Mutual Logistics Support Agreement would smooth the path towards closer defence cooperation, suggested Australian High Commissioner to India Harinder Sidhu.
“Australia and India can do more in global and regional responses to the threat of terrorism. Australia was a co-sponsor of the UNSC resolution which led to the listing of Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist Masood Azhar. We have a growing annual counter-terrorism dialogue and are developing practical cooperation on responding to the threat in South and Southeast Asia. Prime Minister Modi has highlighted the threat which terrorism poses for all our societies during his recent visits to Maldives and Sri Lanka. We both support an effective Financial Action Task force which addresses the financing of terrorism,” noted Sidhu while delivering an address titled ‘India-Australia partnership in the Indo-Pacific – contributing to the region’ here on Tuesday.
“…we are facing a shifting world order; there is growing uncertainty and we are starting to see assertive use of power and Geo-Economic competition. Australia and India have shared views about these challenges. This is nowhere more evident than the key elements of our Indo-Pacific policies,” the Indian-origin envoy pointed out.
“…We are a country that faces the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other…Our priorities aligned well with those sketched out by Prime Minister Modi at the Shangri-La Dialogue in 2018, where he highlighted the importance of open trade, a rules-based order, transparency, the rights of all states and the central role of ASEAN.”
Pointing out that there is real substance alongside shared Indo-Pacific vision, the envoy noted, “We have seen our bilateral relationship has grown dramatically in past decade…Our strategic convergence has been underpinned by closer people to people links. One in 50 Australians today (2%) were born in India– a sign of the rapid migration to Australia we have seen over recent decades; Almost 90,000 Indian students studied in Australia last year, a 25% increase on 2017; and Over 350,000 Indian tourists visited Australia from India in 2018 –growing at 18 per cent with similar numbers in the other direction.”
“And most importantly the bilateral relationship is underpinned by a very strong strategic partnership. One symbol of that strategic partnership is AUSINDEX, our bilateral naval exercise which took place only two months ago. The third iteration of AUSINDEX took place over two weeks in April (April 2-16). It represented the largest and most complex of its kind, involving submarines and maritime patrol aircraft from both countries. It was the largest ever deployment of Australian military assets to India.”
The exercise builds on a fourfold increase in bilateral defence engagement — from 11 defence exercises, meetings and activities in 2014 to 38 in 2018. “Alongside our defence and strategic relations, it is important to note our economic relationship is growing. Australian exports to India have doubled in the past five years to 2018 (from $A11 billion to $A22 billion), growing on an average of 15 per cent per annum – twice as fast as Australia’s exports to China (7.6 per cent). India is now our third largest services export market (at $A5.6 billion), after China and the US,” informed the High Commissioner.
“We are in a stronger place of trust and understanding of each other than we were even a decade ago. There is more comfort in working together. Slowly we are shaking off our own ‘hesitations of history’ and we are looking to the future, instead of looking back…there is more India and Australia can do together to strengthen the economic order in the Indo-Pacific. This has two dimensions. The first is trade and second is investment in the region, and with the later particularly on high quality infrastructure development.”
Successfully concluding RCEP – which includes India, China and the ASEAN countries as well as Australia - will help shape the regional rules and norms governing trade, investment and the broader economy, the envoy suggested.
RCEP countries represent almost half the world’s population and over 30 per cent of global GDP. Concluding a high-quality RCEP will expand regional trade and investment. It will strengthen regional supply chains. And it will create a platform to drive ongoing economic reform.
India and Australia are both increasing their support for economic governance and infrastructure across the Indo-Pacific. “Australia for its part has announced new initiatives across the Pacific, Southeast Asia and South Asia in the past nine months. As the weight of global power shifts from the North Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific, strategic and Geo-Strategic competition in Southeast Asia has sharpened. ASEAN unity is under pressure as external powers lean on the smaller, economically vulnerable members of the grouping to do their geopolitical bidding…Our recently announced Southeast Asia Economic Governance and Infrastructure Initiative, worth $A121 million to unlock Southeast Asia’s next wave of economic growth.”
At the Raisina Dialogue in January this year, Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne announced Australia would be supporting regional economic connectivity in South Asia through the new South Asia Regional Infrastructure Connectivity initiative, known as SARIC. SARIC will focus on the transport and energy sectors – where the economic value-add is particularly strong.
Without naming China, the envoy noted that a second area of opportunity is to shape an open, inclusive and rules-based maritime order in the Indo-Pacific. “Australia and India both have large maritime zones in the Indian Ocean and significant naval capabilities. Both countries are strong supporters of UNCLOS. We can strengthen the rules-based order in regional forums such as IORA, the ASEAN Regional Forum and the EAS. Our bilateral defence relationship – which I have already talked about - can also contribute to the regional order. We should move towards greater interoperability and aligning our defence diplomacy across the region to help shape the regional order.”