The assault on Indian forces along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in 2020 was a “warning we should all heed” and Australia stood up for India’s sovereignty then and continues to do so now, said visiting Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles, referring to the standoff in Eastern Ladakh and the violent clash in Galwan which led to the death of 20 Indian soldiers, while stressing that it is vital that China “commits to resolving this dispute” through dialogue.
“It is vital that China commits to resolving this dispute through a process of dialogue consistent with international law. The global rules based order matters everywhere, including in the highest place on earth,” Mr. Marles said speaking at the National Defence College on Wednesday.
Earlier in the day he held a bilateral meeting with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh during which the two sides agreed to explore means to grow connections and opportunities between the defence industrial bases of two countries as well as to increase the resilience of supply chains and deliver capabilities to their respective defence forces, the Defence Ministry said.
“It is critical that China’s neighbours do not see its build-up as a risk for them because without that reassurance, it is inevitable that countries will seek to upgrade their own military capabilities in response,” Mr. Marles said in the address referring to China’s massive military build up. “Insecurity is what drives an arms race.” He termed India as “one of the priorities of the new Australian Government” and said his visit reflects the commitment by the Albanese Government to place India at the heart of Australia’s approach to the Indo-Pacific and beyond.
He said the return of war in Europe is another warning while adding that he is not here to “lecture” India on how it should respond to this conflict, or how it should manage its relationship with Russia. “Every country needs to make its own choices.”
However, Russia’s war on Ukraine does teach us that we cannot just rely on economic interdependence to deter conflict; and that deterrence can fail when one country’s determined military build-up creates an imbalance of military power, he stated. “An imbalance that encouraged President Putin to conclude the benefits from conflict outweighed the risks.”
He stressed that deepening India-Australia security cooperation was not meant to counter China. There is nothing remarkable about two democracies working together in response to strategic change, Mr. Charles said adding, “But it would be wrong to assume, as some commentators tend to, that China is at the centre of every decision.”
Australia does not question the right of any country to modernise its military capabilities consistent with its interests and resources, the visiting Deputy PM said talking of China’s rapid military build-up which he termed is now the “largest and most ambitious” by any country since the end of the Second World War. “But large-scale military build-ups must be transparent. And they must be accompanied by statecraft that reassures,” he stressed.
He further said everyone expects a more powerful China to have a stronger say in regional and international affairs but stressed on the respect for agreed rules and norms, trade and investment flow based on agreed rules and binding treaty commitments and dispute resolution among states through dialogue and in accordance with international law. “This is vital when it comes to the rearmament we are witnessing in the Indo-Pacific.”
India is also set to participate participation in Australia’s Indo-Pacific Endeavour exercise in October 2022.
A Defence Ministry statement said that both Ministers committed to give fillip to the India-Australia Joint Working Group (JWG) on Defence Research and Materiel Cooperation, which will meet in Australia later this year. The JWG is a mechanism for boosting ties between defence industries.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a significant increase in defence cooperation between the two countries, a point noted by the Ministers. They also reviewed the defence and security pillars of the India-Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) and reaffirmed their commitment its implementation based on “mutual trust and understanding, common interests and shared values, of democracy and rule of law.”
‘Diversity, frequency of defence exercises growing’
“They welcomed the growing diversity and frequency of defence exercises and exchanges between the two countries and undertook to build upon operational engagements through the India-Australia Mutual Logistics Support Arrangement,” the statement said.
The Ministers also reviewed strategic challenges and the regional security situation and reaffirmed their shared objective of an open, free, inclusive, prosperous and rules-based Indo-Pacific region.
Mr. Marles is on an India visit from June 20-23, 2022. On Tuesday, he visited Goa which included a tour of Goa Shipyard Limited and a display of India’s growing prowess in indigenous drone development and autonomous vehicle technology, the statement added.