India, Australia to strengthen defence, security partnership

New Delhi: India and Australia on Monday decided to deepen their bilateral defence and security partnership and boost cooperation in maritime safety and security.

"The Prime Ministers committed to deepening the bilateral defence and security partnership... As fellow Indian Ocean nations, the two Prime Ministers also underscored Australia and India's joint commitment to enhancing regional cooperation in promoting maritime safety and security," said a Joint Statement after Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Malcolm Turnbull held talks accompanied by their respective delegations.

The two sides "expressed their support for peace, stability, prosperity, security and integrity of Afghanistan", stressing the need for "early peace and reconciliation through Afghan-owned and Afghan-led process" and calling for "ending external support for terrorism".

India welcomed the passage of the Civil Nuclear Transfers to India Act by the Australian Parliament, which could ensure commercial exports of Australian uranium begins soon.

In September 2014, India and Australia signed a Civil Nuclear Agreement for Australian supply of uranium to India.

In December last year, Australian Parliament passed a law to allow the supply of uranium to India. The commercial deals for the supply of uranium are being further negotiated.

On the engagement with ASEAN, the Prime Ministers noted the growing strategic importance of South-East Asia and "recognised ongoing cooperation in other regional bodies such as the ASEAN Regional Forum, and ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting Plus (ADMM+), and the Asia Europe Meeting".

According to the statement, Turnbull reiterated Australia's support for India's membership of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, while both sides expressed the desire that the Indian Ocean architecture keeps pace with regional issues and addresses emerging threats and challenges in the region.

APEC is a regional economic forum with 21 member economies of the Asia-Pacific region. India had applied for membership of APEC in 1991 on the basis of a geographic location, potential size of the economy and degree of trade interaction with the Asia-Pacific. The forum gives membership to economies which share borders with Pacific oceans.

The 5th APEC Leaders' meeting in Vancouver in 1997 decided to place a 10 year moratorium on expanding membership. 

On defence ties, the joint statement said that both nations "remain strongly committed to the breadth of their defence ties, including through ongoing annual staff talks for Army, Navy and Air Forces". 

Two sides will hold their first joint army exercise in 2018. AUSINDEX, bilateral maritime exercise, first held in the Bay of Bengal in 2015, will be again held off the Western Australia in 2018.

To build 'deep strategic partnership', two countries will hold "inaugural secretaries' defence and foreign affairs dialogue in the '2+2' format, the statement said. 

In this format the secretaries or ministers of the defence and foreign affairs jointly holds dialogues with thier counterparts. India holds '2+2' with Japan to address bilateral strategic issues.

Keeping in focus the maritime disputes in the South China sea, the statement called for respecting the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). It asked for resolving disputes peacefully, ensuring maritime security and the safety of sea lines of communication.

Recognising terrorism as the most important threat to peace, India and Australia expressed the need for urgent steps against it and "expressed determination to take concrete measures to step up cooperation and coordination among the law enforcement, intelligence and security organisations".

The two sides welcomed the signing of the MOU on Cooperation in Combating International Terrorism and Transnational Organised Crime. 

"This overarching security understanding will allow links between Australian and Indian law enforcement, border and intelligence agencies to grow - ultimately improving both countries' ability to address global and regional security threats," it said.

On the economic front, Turnbull informed Modi that Australia would commission an India Economic Strategy to define a pathway for the Australian business community to collaborate with India on its reform agenda. 

India, in the joint statement, called Australia an important partner who supports it in its growth path.

Both sides expressed commitment to conclude the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA). 

Australia, in the statement, said that its vocational education and training system will support India's industrial training programme to train 400 million people by 2022, while the Australia India Strategic Research Fund (AISRF) will support seven joint project teams over the next three years.

The two countries have committed over $100 million (Rs 500 crore) to the AISRF, which has supported some 300 academic programmes.

The two Prime Ministers welcomed the signing of the two Implementing Arrangements between Indian Space Research Organization and Geoscience Australia on cooperation in space technology.

Turnbull also invited elite Indian sports teams to train in Australia ahead of the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast.