On Monday, India and Australia moved closer to closing in on the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), as the Foreign and Defence Secretaries from both countries met in New Delhi. The dialogue comes ahead of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s scheduled January 13-16 trip to India, during which he will visit New Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru. The first such two-plus-two meeting happened in December 2017.
The LSA will be one of the key agenda points during Prime Minister Morrison’s visit. The Agreement will allow the two countries to use each other’s military bases for logistics support, including food, water, and petroleum.
During their meeting on Monday, the two sides carried out a comprehensive review of their strategic engagement and the regional security scenario, which is continuously evolving given China’s military expansion and economic influence.
India-Australia bilateral relations
When it comes to defence, India and Australia share a common concern over China; it is that aspect which informs a lot of the bilateral transactions between the two countries. While Australia is worried about China’s presence in the Pacific, India is worried about China’s increasing activities and influence in the Indian Ocean.
Earlier this year, the Australian and Indian navies concluded a two-week-long bilateral maritime exercise code-named AUSINDEX.
A government release at the time said the exercise was conducted, “to strengthen and enhance mutual cooperation and interoperability between the IN (Indian Navy) and RAN (Royal Australian Navy), providing opportunities for interaction and exchange of professional views between the personnel of the two navies”.
From 2016-18, the armies of the countries conducted a joint military exercise dubbed “AUSTRA HIND”.
Significantly, for the first time in 2017, Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper identified India as being at the “front rank” of Australia’s international partnerships, “on par with the US, Japan, Indonesia, and China”, Australian High Commissioner Harinder Sidhu said in her address at the National Defence College in May this year.
The informal strategic Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD) that was initiated by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007 was largely in response to China’s growing power and influence.
Initially, the “Quad” members included India, Japan, the US, and Australia; however Australia chose to withdraw when Kevin Rudd was Prime Minister, since it did not want to be a part of an anti-China alliance at the time.
In an article in the Nikkei Asian Review in March 2019, Rudd said, referring to his opposition to the Quad: “Japan said that the rationale for the QSD was to defend the international rules-based order, implying that China back in 2007 had already become a threat to the order.
“For Australia in 2007 therefore, to begin embroiling itself in any emerging military alliance with Japan against China, in the absence of any formal reconciliation between Tokyo and Beijing over the events of the Second World War (Nanking Massacre), was incompatible with our long-term national interests.”
However, Australia later rejoined the dialogue in 2017 on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit, signalling a re-ignition in Australia’s interest in the dialogue.