P. S. Suryanarayana

Kuala Lumpur “is a cornerstone” of India’s Look East diplomacy in the defence sector

KUALA LUMPUR: Defence Minister A.K. Antony arrived here on Sunday on a “very sensitive goodwill visit” aimed at raising the “new momentum” in military-to-military cooperation.

Mr. Antony said, “Malaysia is a cornerstone” of India’s Look East diplomacy in the defence sector. And, this should be seen in the larger political context that all aspects of the Look East policy, including the defence dimension, were “not [aimed] against China” at all, he said, responding to a question.

Border talks

Noting that “the 11th round of negotiations” with Beijing on the border issue had already taken place, Mr. Antony was optimistic about Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to China later this month.

“We are not entering into any kind of military alliance with anybody” as part of the defence outreach of the Look East policy.”

India’s improving defence ties with neighbours in South East Asia should be seen as a response to the emerging geopolitical scenario across the world. India and the United States, too, “need each other in this new geopolitical situation.” However, he emphasised, any new line of defence cooperation with emerging partners would not be pursued at the expense of old friends such as Russia.

“Interdependence”

On the growing defence links with Malaysia, he said the focus would be on the air forces and navies. The defence production units in India and Malaysia would also be key players. His talks with Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Najib would be aimed at “further consolidating” these ties in the present global milieu of “interdependence.”

Mr. Antony did not, at this stage, want to go into the finer aspects of cooperation for the maintenance of security along the Straits of Malacca. Malaysia is a key littoral state along these Straits.

Parrying questions about the political agenda of his discussions, especially in the context of developments concerning the ethnic Indian population here, Mr. Antony said his portfolio centred on defence-related matters alone.

He will hold formal talks with his Malaysian counterpart on Monday as a follow-up on their dinner meeting on Sunday. Mr. Antony will co-chair delegation-level defence talks and meet Foreign Minister Hamid Albar, and call on Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, subject to his schedule.

Accords to be fine-tuned

The two sides are likely to fine-tune the cooperation agreements already reached on the training of Malaysian Air Force pilots, with particular reference to “common platforms” such as the Russian-origin warplanes. Also high on the agenda is naval cooperation including the possibility of interactions involving Scorpenes.

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