India and Australia have jointly called for respecting a rules-based maritime order in the Indo-Pacific Region, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison held a long due bilateral meeting primarily directed at boosting maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.
"India and Australia are committed to supporting a rules-based maritime order that is based on respect for sovereignty and international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)," said the Joint Declaration on a Shared Vision for Maritime Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific between the two governments.
Overall, seven pacts in the realms of defence, science and technology, education and governance among others were sealed, as both the democracies elevated their formal ties to the level of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP).
During his opening remarks televised live on social media, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison asserted that the bilateral ties between the two countries were "going to whole new level." Morrison said that both India and Australia could work with partners such Japan, Indonesia, United States and Vietnam to uphold law and order in the region, amid an ongoing pattern of maritime disputes in the South China Sea.
In his first-ever online bilateral conference with a foreign leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his live remarks expressed confidence that Australia and India could jointly be a "force for the good" and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
The bilateral statement on UNCLOS by India and Australia comes amid a heated war of words between China over Beijing's apparently growing maritime claims in the South China Sea, triggering disputes with neighbouring countries such as Vietnam, Japan and the Philippines.
An international tribunal had in 2016 ruled against China on a dispute with the Philippines over the U-shaped 9-dash line.
However, Beijing continues to claim sovereignty over the territorial waters said to have belonged to the Philippines.
Widening defence cooperation
Two key defence pacts were finalised between India and Australia on Thursday, including Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) and the other on cooperation in defence science and technology, under the MoU on Defence.
The Mutual Logistics Agreement (MLA) pact signed between the two regional naval powers gives form and substance to the CSP, said the Australian Prime Minister.
The logistic sharing pact, another crucial component of the CSP, will enable both the countries to access the military bases of the other for humanitarian, training, combined exercises, humanitarian operations, port exercise, training, and other reasons, explained Vijay Thakur Singh, the Secretary East at Ministry of External Affairs during her online briefing announcing the outcomes of the bilateral meeting.
Stressing on the importance of the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) for India, Pune-based defence expert Dr Anant Bhagwat says that the pact opens up the possibility of Indian Navy getting access to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the Indian Ocean waters south west of the Malacca Strait.
"We already have a presence in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which puts us at the vantage position as far as the shipping lines near the Strait waters are concerned," says Dr Bhagwat, who heads national security think tank Global Strategic Policy Foundation Pune (GSPFP).
Forty per cent of the world's trade and 80 per cent of China's energy imports pass through the Strait of Malacca, which makes it a crucial shipping lane in the Indo-Pacific waters.