India, Australia committed to open and inclusive Indo-Pacific: Albanese.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Thursday called India a top-tier security partner for his country while announcing that Australia will host this year’s Malabar exercise for the first time even as he stressed that the Indian Ocean was key to the security and prosperity of both countries, which are committed to upholding the rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific.

“We both depend on free and open access to sea lanes in the Indo-Pacific for our trade and economic well-being. And we share an unwavering commitment to upholding the rules-based international order and ensuring the Indo-Pacific is open, inclusive and prosperous,” Albanese said.

He made those comments during a visit to India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, in Mumbai. Navy chief Admiral R Hari Kumar received him on board.

Albanese’s comments come against the backdrop of a firm Chinese push for greater maritime influence in the far seas.

“My visit reflects my government’s commitment to place India at the heart of Australia’s approach to the Indo-Pacific and beyond,” he said.

India and Australia are part of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, along with the US and Japan, and the foreign ministers of the Quad countries met in Delhi last week on the sidelines of the Raisina Dialogue to review the grouping’s initiatives across the Indo-Pacific in key areas such as maritime security, health, infrastructure projects, and connectivity. They also discussed China’s aggressive actions across the region, including the situation in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait.

Albanese said Australia will host the Malabar exercise, which involves the Quad navies, for the first time later this year.

The Malabar exercise began as an annual bilateral naval exercise between India and the US in 1992, but has increased in scope and complexity over the years. Wary of the Quad, China has been monitoring its activities closely. The Quad was revived in late 2017 by India, the US, Australia and Japan, increasing Beijing’s suspicions as the four countries upgraded the forum to the ministerial level in 2019.

The Australian PM said India will also for the first time participate in the Talisman Sabre exercise, which is a biennial combined Australian and US training activity.

“It will be a great privilege to welcome India’s navy to Australia in August and I thank them again for hosting me here today,” he said.

Albanese said he was delighted to meet the talented and highly professional men and women on board the aircraft carrier Vikrant. “It made me reflect that strong defence relationships are forged over time and by many. But arguably, what lifts defence relationships to new levels is the resolve and foresight of those who see the relationship not only for what it is, but what it could be. Prime Minister Modi is one such person,” Albanese said, while thanking the Indian PM for driving forward the defence and security partnership.

He said that partnership was of increasing strategic importance as the two countries navigated the challenges of the region together.

“And there has never been a point in both of our country’s histories where we’ve had such a strong strategic alignment…I’m pleased to report that there’s never been a busier or more productive time in our defence and security partnership. Last year, we conducted more exercises, operations and dialogues than ever before.” he said.

In his address, the Australian PM also made a mention of the two countries deploying maritime patrol aircraft to each other’s territories for the first time, and the inaugural Australia-India General Rawat Defence Officer Exchange Programme that is currently on in India.

The pioneering exchange programme will ensure defence personnel of the two countries develop the familiarity and trust that underpins a close and long-lasting relationship, he added.

Defence minister Rajnath Singh addressed the navy’s top brass on board INS Vikrant on March 6, the inaugural day of the biannual naval commanders’ conference.

The holding of the top navy meet on board the aircraft carrier brought into sharper focus the country’s steps towards achieving self-reliance in the defence manufacturing sector. The 45,000-tonne Vikrant was built at Cochin Shipyard at a cost of 20,000 crore, and commissioned into the navy six months ago.

Source- Hindustan Times.

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