Australia will strengthen defence ties with India during Scott Morrison’s official visit next month, with deals to streamline reciprocal access to bases and co-operation on military technology projects.
The Prime Minister and his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, will sign a logistics agreement to improve the interoperability of the countries’ navies and fast-track planning for joint exercises by pre-authorising arrangements for port visits, fuel costs, supplies and personnel clearances.
A memorandum of understanding will also be finalised, committing Australia’s Defence Science and Technology group to working with India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation.
The agreements will significantly bolster defence co-operation between the countries — which are both members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with the US and Japan — amid unease over China’s assertiveness.
The logistics deal is seen as a precursor to a formal invitation from India for Australia to join its Malabar naval exercises with the US and Japan.
The defence science MOU will establish a framework for joint research and development of defence technologies, potentially including weapons, aerospace and electronic warfare systems.
Mr Morrison is likely to visit the capital, New Delhi, the nation’s commercial hub of Mumbai and its technology hub, Bangalore.
Cricket diplomacy will be put to work, with a focus on the upcoming T20 men’s and women’s world cups in Australia, which the Prime Minister will highlight as a tourism drawcard.
It is understood the program has been drawn up to give Mr Morrison and Mr Modi — who have a strong personal chemistry — a significant amount of time together beyond official meetings.
Defence Department secretary Greg Moriarty and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Frances Adamson were in New Delhi for talks this week to progress agreements to be sealed during the visit.
The leaders will commit to restarting negotiations on a bilateral trade agreement, and sign new agreements on critical technologies and minerals to counter Chinese dominance in hi-tech sectors.
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, who met Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh at the ASEAN defence ministers’ meeting in Bangkok, said India was a vital security partner. “Australia-India defence co-operation has grown significantly over the past decade, and more will be done to increase the depth and complexity of exercises and activities,” she said.
The defence logistics agreement is aimed at deepening trust and increasing the number of joint exercises, and mirrors similar agreements India has with the US, France and Singapore.
India sees the agreement as an important development that will enhance its navy’s ability to “operate eastwards”.
India is considering inviting Australia to participate in its Malabar Exercises, with sources saying Australia will ultimately be included as a permanent participant. However, Australia’s participation will be highly sensitive, transforming the exercises into annual training for all Quad navies, in what China will view as an unwelcome development.
Australia has not been invited to participate in Malabar since the Rudd government unilaterally withdrew from the Quad in 2008, admitting the grouping had “caused China concern”.
Mr Morrison will address India’s prestigious Raisina Dialogue during his trip, the country’s flagship international conference on geopolitics and economics.
The Prime Minister told the Lowy Institute in October that India was “a natural partner for Australia”, and referred to its “shared values” — a point of differentiation with China.
By: The Australian