Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 4, 2020 held a virtual summit with the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The talk that was made even more interesting by the personal touch from both the leaders of the two countries has resulted in India and Australia signing 9 bilateral pacts. However, a phrase perhaps found more resonance in the virtual summit – a comprehensive strategic partnership. PM Narendra Modi’s tweet also highlights this aspect.
With Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between India and Australia, we aspire to achieve yet new heights in our collaboration.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) June 4, 2020
Among all the documents signed, people who write in the domain of strategic affair have picked up the strategic partnership and maritime cooperation between India and Australia as the key highlight of the summit. Sample this.
At the turn of the century, Australia and India were estranged and indifferent – now they are genuine strategic partners. My recent Indo-Pacific book explains this as one of the region's profound adjustments to Chinese disruption and American dysfunction https://t.co/OFi9Arh2YX
— Rory Medcalf (@Rory_Medcalf) June 4, 2020
The pact talks about deepening of navy-to-navy cooperation and strengthen maritime domain awareness in the Indo-Pacific region through enhanced exchange of information.
The point of interest for the strategic community in this agreement is the fact that it is largely being seen as India’s effort to balance China’s power play in the Indo-Pacific Ocean region.
It is also notable that the media is speculating that India may invite Australia for the Malabar navy exercise along with US and Japan. As this Times of India report notes, in 2007 when India tried to involve Japan and other countries in the Bay of Bengal Malabar exercise, the opposition from China made India backtrack on its initial decision. Nevertheless, Japan was included when the exercise was conducted in the North-western Pacific between 2009-14. Post 2015, Japan has been a permanent participant.
With the deepening of maritime ties with Australia, India is further strengthening the naval position.
Maritime Bonding with Australia in Modi Era
Australia and India have a positive defence relationship, guided by the 2006 Memorandum of Defence Cooperation and 2009 Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation.
However, after 2014, both the countries have been coming together regularly for joint maritime exercises. A Framework for Security Cooperation was announced by the Australian and Indian Prime Ministers in 2014. The maiden edition of the exercise was held in September 2015 at Visakhapatnam. Australia hosted the second edition of the exercise off Freemantle in June 2017, wherein ships of the Eastern Fleet of the Indian Navy exercised with Royal Australian Navy ships and submarines. The third edition was again hosted by India in April 2019.
Now, with this new set of pacts, India and Australia have raised the status of their partnership mutually, declaring each other strategic partners in maritime sphere, something Indian forged with the US in recent years.
The Straits of Malacca, which is nearer to India’s Andaman Nicobar Islands, and Australia’s Cocos islands are in proximity to the Indonesian straits of Sunda, Lombok, and Ombai-Wetar, are critical places. Since these straits play a crucial role in the passing of maritime trade route, the coming together of India Australia in strategic terms assumes global significance.