NEW DELHI — As part of its policy to strengthen defense ties with countries in the Asia Pacific Region, India plans to improve relations with Australia and Thailand.
Visiting Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony and his Australian counterpart, Stephen Smith, agreed during talks in Canberra on Wednesday to step up military exchanges and naval combat exercises.
“The Defense Ministers of Australia and India agreed to continue to have regular bilateral Defence Ministers’ Meetings, to promote exchanges between the Defence establishments and the Armed Forces of both sides,” says an Indian Ministry of Defence statement.
Without specifying concern over Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea, a joint statement issued at the end of the talks in Canberra said, “maritime security and freedom of navigation in accordance with principles of international law is critical for the growth and prosperity of the Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean Region.”
Indian Defence Ministry sources said the Indian government does not want to formally participate in regional, multilateral security tie-ups, which was conveyed to Australian officials during Antony’s visit.
“Australia is part of an [informal] quadrilateral alliance between the United States, Australia, Japan and India, which will help check Chinese assertiveness in the Indian Ocean Region and the Asia Pacific region,” said Nitin Mehta, New Delhi-based defense analyst.
“While China looks at this quadrilateral strategic arrangement with suspicion, New Delhi wants to send a strong message to China that it is determined to stem the growing influence of Beijing in the Indian Ocean region,” Mehta said.
Defence Ministry officials denied that any talks were held regarding the “so called” quadrilateral alliance during Antony’s talks in Canberra.
“The Defence Minister A.K. Antony offered to discuss with Thailand possible areas of cooperation and collaboration in defense production. During talks with his Thai counterpart, Air Chief Marshal Sukumpol Suwanatat in Bangkok, Antony said India has, over the years, developed a well-established defense industry which can meet varying requirements of the Thai armed forces,” says the Indian Defence Ministry release.