NEW DELHI: India is a natural partner for Australia and its growing and strategic heft is being felt beyond the Indian Ocean, creating new opportunities for bilateral cooperation based on shared values and outlook.
India’s voice will be particularly consequential in regional order building and along with Indonesia and Vietnam should have more say and a greater stake in institutions and norm-setting in the Indo-Pacific region suggested Rod Hilton, Australia’s Deputy High Commissioner to India.
“Australia also strongly supports India’s ongoing economic integration into the region. We see India as having a role to play in shaping the regional trading order—prompting the benefit of free and open trade and improving economic governance in the region and beyond,” Hilton said, adding, “The convergence in our strategic outlooks has also underpinned a deepening of our defence and security ties. The third iteration of our bilateral naval exercise, AUSINDEX, held this year (April 2-16), represented the largest-ever Australian defence deployment to India. The exercise builds on a fourfold increase in our defence engagement — from 11 defence exercises, meetings and activities in 2014 to 38 in 2018.”
“The first area is our joint efforts to shape an open, inclusive and rules-based maritime order in the Indo-Pacific. Australia and India both have large maritime zones in the Indian Ocean and significant naval capabilities. Both countries are strong supporters of UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). We are working together to strengthen the rules-based order in regional forums such as IORA, the ASEAN Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit.”
Australia was one of the first countries to come out in support of India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative which Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced at the East Asia Summit. “We look forward to working with India as it develops this initiative in consultation with other countries in the region. Our bilateral defence relationship can also help shape the regional order, especially as we move towards greater interoperability and alignment of our defence diplomacy,” noted Hilton.
“The second area is our cooperation on cyber and critical technologies. Our countries have a shared view that emerging and critical technologies will shape the security and prosperity of our citizens. A third area of cooperation is responding to the threat of terrorism. The fourth area is our increasing support for economic governance and infrastructure across the Indo-Pacific. We see a role for both of us to promote the principles of free and open trade, grow prosperity and support trade liberalisation and shape the region’s economic rules and institutions.”
Australia for its part has announced new initiatives across the Pacific, Southeast Asia and South Asia. “We will use our Southeast Asia Economic Governance and Infrastructure Initiative to unlock the next wave of Southeast Asia’s economic growth,” according to Hilton.
Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs launched in January the new South Asia Regional Connectivity initiative, known as SARIC. SARIC will focus on the transport and energy sectors and we will seek to support connectivity between South and Southeast Asia, a priority of both India and ASEAN members. And among a major package of initiatives, known as Pacific Step Up, Australia has announced a A$2 billion financing facility for the Pacific.
Hilton was speaking at Chanakya Chakra forum on Foreign and security policies here on Wednesday on a theme titled “Towards Secure and Prosperous Indo-Pacific”