By Dr Subhash Kapila
Australian Defence Minister Kevin Andrews visit to India September 1-3 2015 was loaded heavily with significant endorsements of Australia-Indian strategic convergences on Indian Ocean and South China Sea security and additionally cemented the strategic contents of the Australia-India Framework for Security Cooperation Agreement of November 2014.
It would be recalled from my last year’s paper that this path-breaking Agreement quoted above was arrived at by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Abbott during the former’s visit to Australia in November 2014.
To set the tone of analysing the significance of the Australian Defence Minister’s first visit to India and Australia’s geostrategic perceptions of India, it would be appropriate to quote his statements verbatim as made during this visit:
- “India is the emerging democratic superpower in Asia. It is therefore sensible that the relationship between India and Australia be developed and strengthened.”
- “There is scope for greater cooperation on global issues as India is a strategic partner.”
- ‘Australia recognises India’s critical role in supporting the security, stability and prosperity of the Indian Ocean Region and the stability of a wider rules-based global order.”
- Commenting on his dialogue with the Indian Defence Minister, he said that “The dialogue provides an opportunity for Defence Minister Parrikar and I to set the direction of our bilateral defence engagement in line with the expectations of the Frame work.”
The direction seems to have been set in terms of joint naval exercise AUSINDEX this month, Australian invitation to Indian Air Force for participation in Ex PITCH BLACK in Australia, possibly some joint Army exercises, and greater exchange between Australia and Indian DRDO. India and Australia have a commonality and inter-operability of US-origin Air Force transport aircraft and Naval maritime surveillance aircraft like the C-17, C-130 and the P-8.
Of much significance to India is the decision of Australia to cooperate and coordinate with India on Jihadi terrorism threats information and counter-terrorism strategies especially in relation to ISIS where reports suggest that over one hundred persons of Australian citizenship have joined the ISIS.
Australia-India strategic reachout to each other holds special geopolitical significance in the context of any maritime threats arising to Indian Ocean security and convergences in maintaining stability. These Australia-India maritime security convergences extend also to security and stability in the South China Sea.
In the above context, the Australian Defence Minister, stating that Australia while it does not consider China as a threat to Australian security, but implicit in the statement quoted ahead was the fact that Australia was critical of China’s stances on South China Sea and maritime security overall when he asserted that “At the same time we believe that the best way to maintain the integrity of the global trading system is to abide by international rules-based system. So we have said this publicly and privately to China that this is what Australia believes.”
Reinforcing Australian strong stand on China’s aggressive brinkmanship in the South China Sea the Australian Defence Minister firmly stated that “Australia strongly opposes the use of intimidation, aggression and coercion to advance any country’s claims or militarily alter the status quo. We are particularly concerned about the possible militarisation of features in the South China Sea.”
The Australian Defence Minister besides dialogue with the Indian Defence Minister also had meetings with the Indian External Affairs Minister, National Security Adviser and the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His India visit also included a visit to India’s Western Naval Command Headquarters in Mumbai signifying the importance Australia attaches to India’s maritime importance.
The Chinese and Pakistani media only had terse reports of the Australian Defence Minister’s visit to India. So far, no comments have emanated from China on the assertive statements made by the Australian Defence Minister during his India-visit on the South China Sea.
It needs to be emphasised that Australia-India strategic reachout and partnership is a significant one and it is upto India now to walk the talk on adding substance to the Australian strategic reachout to India and it recognising India’s emerging roles as a power of significance. Rarely, has one seen any foreign dignitary as the Australian Defence Minister make strategic endorsements of India and also do a bit of ‘plain-speaking’ on China’s maritime brinkmanship.
Concluding thought that one wishes to emphasise is that if India wishes to retain the Indian Ocean as “Indian” then it must shed its erstwhile delusional “Strategic-Non Alignment” fixations and reach out actively for and reactivate the “US-Japan-India-Australia Quadrilateral” so that the Navies of these four nations pursue an integrated naval strategy for maintenance of Indian Ocean security and stability.