Defence Minister Marles

NEW DELHI: Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles on Thursday said that defence engagement between India and Australia will ensure closer ties between the two strategic partners.

A day earlier, the Australian Defence Minister held a bilateral meeting with his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh as both sides reviewed the regional security situation and reaffirmed their shared objective of an open, free and rules-based Indo-Pacific region.
Marles, who arrived in India on Monday on a four-day visit, today said he has invited Rajnath Singh to visit Australia.

“We had a meeting with Defence Minister of India…we have invited him to Australia…we need more such engagement. Greater engagement between two Defence forces to ensure that we become more closer,” said Richard Marles, who is also Australia’s deputy prime minister.

He also underlined the security threat emanating from China. “China is Australia’s the largest trading partner and so is for India. China is our biggest security anxiety and so is for India. We are friends and are exchanging notes.”

“We have seen that in the South China Sea and also with India along the LAC two years back, the appalling behaviour with Indian soldiers. For us, we are experiencing that in the South China Sea,” he added.

On the AUKUS grouping, he said the trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, is “not a security exchange.”

In the backdrop of the ongoing Ukraine conflict, the minister said, “We have seen China and Russia practical relationships…so we are very mindful of that. For democracy, it is very important to maintain peace in the world.”

Speaking at the National Defence College, Marles on Wednesday said the “assault on Indian forces” along the Line of Actual Control with China in 2020 was a warning that the world should heed.

He also noted that Beijing’s military build-up is the most ambitious by any country since the end of the Second World War.

Marles said his visit reflects the conviction and the commitment of the Albanese Government to place India at the heart of Australia’s approach to the Indo-Pacific and beyond. He said the geography of Australia and India makes the two countries stewards of the Indian Ocean region.

“China’s military build-up is now the largest and most ambitious we have seen by any country since the end of the Second World War. It is critical that China’s neighbours do not see this build-up as a risk for them. Because without that reassurance, it is inevitable that countries will seek to upgrade their own military capabilities in response,” he said.

Marles, who is also Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister, said insecurity is what drives an arms race and India’s own experience illustrates this maxim more than most.

“The assault on Indian forces along the Line of Actual Control in 2020 was a warning we should all heed. Australia stood up for India’s sovereignty then and continues to do so now. It is vital that China commits to resolving this dispute through a process of dialogue consistent with international law. The global rules-based order matters everywhere, including in the highest place on earth,” he said.

The Australian Defence Minister said as India and Australia continue to lift their defence and security cooperation, exploring longer-term reciprocal access arrangements is the logical next step. (ANI)