In light of the increasing strategic importance of the Indo-Pacific region, Australia is willing to join the Malabar naval exercise if invited by the other three participating nations of India, the US and Japan, a senior Australian official said on Wednesday.
“Australia, of course, stands very willing to join Malabar should we be invited to do so,” Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia Frances Adamson said at a media round table.”
But that invitation could only come from the other three,” Adamson, who was here to participate in the inaugural 2+2 Foreign Secretaries and Defence Secretaries Dialogue between India and Australia and the fourth India-Australia-Japan trilateral meeting, said.
Originally started by India and the US in 1992, Japan became a permanent member of the Malabar naval exercise in 2015 after participating in some earlier editions.
Australia took part in the 2007 exercise but left thereafter.
Regarding the 2+2 Dialogue on Tuesday, Adamson said that both sides shared their perspectives on the region with a particular focus on the Indo-Pacific, “and within the Indo-Pacific, a particular focus on the Indian Ocean”.
Stating that Australia is an Indian Ocean country as much as it is a Pacific country, she said that the conversation quickly turned to cooperation in the maritime domain and the importance of maritime domain awareness.
“We have been over a period of many years now developing a bilateral defence relationship, including through Ausindex, our bilateral naval exercise, including through the exchange of senior level visits, including discussions of a whole range of maritime issues,” she said. “But it is not limited to maritime domain either.
The conversation also includes practical dimensions to our military-to-military cooperation.” Regarding Wednesday’s India-Australia-Japan trilateral meeting, Adamson said that the three sides discussed North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, counter-terrorism, cyber security and regional security issues.
Referring to the white paper on Australia’s new foreign policy released in November, she said that it recognised that India now sat in the front rank of Australia’s international partnerships.
“Beyond an increasingly important economic relationship, our security intents are congruent, particularly in relation to the stability and openness of the Indian Ocean,” she said.
The white paper also encourages India’s strategic engagements with East Asia and the US.
“In addition to our bilateral relationship, Australia’s trilateral and quadrilateral dialogues with India are an essential part of our approach to order-building in the Indo-Pacific,” Adamson said.
India, Australia, the US and Japan last month discussed the security and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region at a quadrilateral meeting in the Philippines on the sidelines of the East Asia and Asean summits.
Adamson said that the white paper sets five priorities fundamental to Australia’s future.
The first is to promote an open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific in which the rights of all states are respected.
“We seek a region in which our ability to prosecute our interests freely is not constrained by the exercise of coercive power,” the Australian official said in what can be seen as a veiled reference to China’s aggressiveness in the South China Sea.
The second is to deliver opportunities for Australian businesses globally and stand against protectionism.
This includes an India Economic Strategy.
The third is to ensure Australians remain safe, secure and free by guarding against terrorism, cyber, transnational crime and foreign interference.
The fourth priority is to promote and protect the international rules that support stability and prosperity and enable cooperation to tackle global challenges and the fifth priority is to step up support for a more resilient Pacific.
Adamson also said that Australia would be supportive if India decided to join the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) a forum of 21 Pacific Rim member economies.
To a separate question on when the first consignment of uranium from Australia will reach India after the two countries signed a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement, she said that no governmental obstacles remained and only the commercial contract was awaited.