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Australia, India Forge Closer Military Ties

Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony (C) walks with Australian counterpart Stephen Smith (L) before a meeting in New Delhi, India, December 2011. (file photo)
Defense ministers from Australia and India say the two nations will implement a range of new initiatives to strengthen their strategic partnership.

Talks between the respective defense ministers in Perth and Canberra this week have sought to enhance the bilateral military relationship.

In a joint statement, the two nations agreed to conduct regular defense ministers' meetings and promote exchanges between their mutual defense establishments and armed forces.

The two nations also agreed to conduct joint naval exercises, although a specific format has yet to be decided. An Indian ship will attend an international naval gathering in Sydney in October, which also will attract vessels from Canada, France and Indonesia.

The visit is Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony's first to Australia. The Australian government acknowledged in a recently published policy paper India’s emergence as “an important strategic, diplomatic and economic” power in the Asia-Pacific region.

Australia defense minister Stephen Smith said ties with New Delhi are critical.

“The relationship between Australia and Indian is on the rise. India is on the rise and this is reflected by the enhanced engagement that Australia has effected with India over the last half-dozen years," he said. "It is also reflected by our Defense White Paper referring to the strategic arc that we now find from the Pacific to India; what we now describe as the Indo-Pacific with Southeast Asia at its geographical center.”

The move by Australia and India to strengthen defense ties comes amid China's increasing assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea, and growing naval forays into the Indian Ocean region. The Indian and Australian defense ministers emphasized the importance of maritime security and freedom of navigation for the growth and prosperity of the Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean regions.

Smith’s Indian counterpart, Antony, arrived in Australia from Singapore as part of an official tour that also includes Thailand, and is aimed at boosting New Delhi’s regional military ties.

The bilateral relationship with Australia has not always been smooth. Attacks on Indian students by thugs in Sydney and Melbourne in 2009 caused diplomatic friction.

An opinion poll published in April by the Sydney-based independent think tank the Lowy Institute and the Australia-India Institute found that 62 percent of Indians still considered Australia a dangerous place for foreign students.

The survey also revealed, however, that Indians ranked Australia among the top four countries they felt closest to, along with the United States, Japan and Singapore.

The Australian government has signaled its intention to sell uranium, the radioactive metal used as a fuel in nuclear reactors, to India in an effort to improve bilateral ties with one of Asia’s emerging powerhouses.

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