Visiting Australian defence minister Kevin Andrews on Wednesday said India’s role was critical in the stability of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and the wider global order, even as he obliquely attacked China’s “intimidation and aggression” in the contentious South China Sea.
Andrews, who will hold talks with PM Narendra Modi, defence minister Manohar Parrikar and others on Wednesday-Thursday, also said he was in favour of India and Australia getting together with the US and Japan for quadrilateral naval exercises on a regular basis.
While India has invited Japan for its “Malabar” exercise with the US in the Bay of Bengal in October this year, it is separately going to hold its first-ever bilateral naval exercise with Australia, called “AusIndex”, off Visakhapatnam from September 12 to 21, as reported by TOI earlier.
In a meeting between the two defence ministers late on Wednesday evening, they decided India will attend Royal Australian Air Force exercise “Pitch Black” among other steps to bolster bilateral defence cooperation.
“Territorial disputes continue to risk regional stability and create uncertainty. One issue that has attracted a lot of international attention in recent months is the South China Sea. Australia has a legitimate interest in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, unimpeded trade and freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea,” he said.
“Australia strongly opposes the use of intimidation, aggression or coercion to advance any country’s claims or to unilaterally alter the status quo. We are particularly concerned about the possible militarization of features in the South China Sea,” he said.
Noting that both India and Australia border the Indian Ocean, Andrews said they had a shared interest in the maintenance of freedom of navigation and trade. “We will both benefit from a more rules-based global order, which will drive our economic growth. Importantly, we see these opportunities to work more closely in defence to protect the order and encourage that prosperity for both our nations and the broader region in the future,” he said.