NEW DELHI: China’s expansive military build-up and its assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific is the `biggest security anxiety’ for both Australia and India, Australian deputy PM Richard Marles said on Thursday, stressing the need for the two nations to work even closer to protect the global rules-based order that has brought prosperity to the region.
“China is seeking to shape the world around us in ways that were not seen before. We are experiencing, particularly in the last couple of years, more assertive behaviour from China,” Marles said.
China’s ‘appalling’ behaviour has been evident along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, which saw Indian and Chinese casualties in a border clash for the first time in 45 years in June 2020, as well as the South China Sea, where Beijing is constructing artificial islands and strong-arming its neighbours on territorial disputes.
“When we look at what happened at the LAC, what we are seeing is that one country (China) is seeking to deal with its disputes not through the established set of rules but through power and use of force,” Marles said, expressing solidarity with India while interacting with some journalists here.
Marles, also the defence minister in the new left-of-centre Anthony Albanese government that came to power in Canberra recently, also expressed major concern over the growing military cooperation between China and Russia, which included joint air exercises with strategic bombers over the Sea of Japan and the Western Pacific during the Quad leaders’ summit in Tokyo in May.
Though Marles stressed it was for India to decide its stand on the ongoing East Europe conflict, in the backdrop of Delhi striking a balance due to its long-standing strategic ties with Moscow, he said, “A large country (Russia) is seeking to overpower a smaller neighbour (Ukraine). The global rules-based order needs to be applied everywhere.”
On the bilateral front, the deputy PM exuded confidence about the `really positive trajectory’ in the defence and security ties between India and Australia, who were now `strategically-aligned’ like never before in history. “We see India as completely central to Australia’s worldview,” he said.
Australia wants the bilateral military engagement to further grow not just in frequency, but also in complexity to build 'high-end interoperability’ between the two armed forces.
With Australia already a regular participant in India’s annual top-notch Malabar naval exercise with the US and Japan, the IAF will now take part in the Australian `Pitch Black’ air combat exercise in August and the Indian Navy in the Indo-Pacific Endeavour exercise in October.
In his meeting with defence minister Rajnath Singh on Wednesday, the two countries resolved to further consolidate their defence relationship through more combat exercises, maritime security cooperation, intelligence-sharing, reciprocal military logistics and military-industrial collaboration.
Greater India-Australia cooperation, in economic as well as defence ties, will enhance the security of both the nations. It is also “absolutely imperative” in the face of China’s assertive behaviour to challenge the global rules-based order, which is critical for the continued prosperity of the Indo-Pacific, Marles said.
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