New Delhi: The first visit to India in two decades by an Australian defence minister has resulted in both countries arriving at an "arrangement" which will see them scaling up maritime co-operation and military exchanges. The "arrangement" also provides for training of their armed forces.
Defence secretary, Shekhar Dutt, and Australian High Commissioner, John McCarthy, in the presence of the defence ministers of the two countries, AK Antony and Brendan Nelson, initialed the "arrangement." A meeting of top officials of the two countries preceded a brief session of talks between the two defence ministers.
According to defence ministry sources, the "arrangement" is expected to facilitate protection of classified information exchanged to implement defence co-operation activities between the two countries, as envisaged in the memoranda of understanding (MoU) on defence co-operation concluded in March 2006.
Subsequent to "staff level" talks held between the navies of both the countries earlier in Feburary, the two sides have now agreed to hold their first ever-joint naval exercise. In this regard it has been mentioned that Australian warship, HMAS Adelaide, may make a visit to India later in the year, which would precede a multilateral exercise involving other countries.
Both countries have also decided to hold frequent meetings of the recently-constituted bilateral maritime security operations working group.
Later in the day, Indian navy chief, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, and army chief, Gen JJ Singh, called on the Australian defence minister.
Increasing the momentum
In the backdrop of increasing apprehensions being exhibited by mainland China at the gathering momentum of India's initiatives in the East/South East Asian region through its recently launched 'Look East" policy, the Australian defence minister hastened to clarify a few points regarding his visit to New Delhi.
Nelson told reporters that it's recent quadrilateral dialogue on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Manila with India, the US and Japan did not touch upon military and security issues but was confined to the economic, trade and cultural spheres. He said that Canberra was satisfied with its long-standing trilateral strategic partnership with the US and Japan and did not wish to complicate relationships with other countries by making it a quadrilateral arrangement.
The Australian minister also reiterated the country's policy of not selling uranium to countries that have not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) but clarified that at the same time it was supportive of, and comfortable with, the ongoing civil nuclear dialogue between the US and India. In particular, it appreciated India's willingness to separate its military and civilian reactors.
"There have been suggestions in some quarters that it was a quadrilateral strategic dialogue. We do not wish to have such a dialogue in defence and security matters. We have a separate bilateral arrangement [with India on defence issues]. Australia doesn't want to do anything unnecessarily that upsets any other country. It is not seeking a quadrilateral dialogue," he told newspersons.
"Australia considers its relationship with India important in the general sense, especially in defence and security. The purpose [of the visit] is to give an increased momentum to this trend. We are also looking at increased level of engagements at the military level. In this respect, Australia for the first time will hold naval exercises in the Bay of Bengal in September. It will also involve some other countries such as Singapore and Japan."
"We want to ensure more Indo-Australia cooperation in maritime security especially in the Indian Ocean. We welcome that India is looking towards East Asia," he added.