New Delhi: Amid escalating tensions between Australia and China, Prime Minister Scott Morrison Wednesday pushed a new aggressive defence strategy even as he mentioned the ongoing border stand-off between New Delhi and Beijing and rising tensions in the South China Sea.
Enhancing its defence spending by about 40 per cent, Australia released its new 2020 Defence Strategic Update, and Force Structure Plan, under which it mentioned India as one of the main committed partners in the Indo-Pacific.
“The Indo-Pacific is the epicentre of rising strategic competition. Our region will not only shape our future, increasingly though, it is the focus of the dominant global contest of our age. This is the setting for it,” Morrison said, while unveiling the new defence strategy before the media.
“Tensions over territorial claims are rising across the Indo-Pacific region, as we have seen recently on the disputed border between India and China, and the South China Sea, and the East China Sea,” he said.
Japan, India, the Republic of Korea, the countries of Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and the Pacific “all have agency, choices to make, parts to play and of course, so does Australia”, said the Australian PM.
He added that under the new strategy there will be greater focus in the area ranging from the north-east Indian Ocean through maritime and mainland Southeast Asia to Papua New Guinea and the south-west Pacific.
“This simple truth is this: Even as we stare down the Covid pandemic at home, we need to also prepare for a post-Covid world that is poorer, that is more dangerous, and that is more disorderly,” he said.
Morrison said there will be an updated 10-year funding model that will enable defence to deliver the strategy and the complex capabilities it requires “to keep us safe”.
“Today, with the Indo-Pacific experiencing fundamental shifts and increased threats, our commitment will only deepen. Our Defence Force will need to be prepared for any future, no matter how unlikely, and hopefully not needed in the worst of circumstances,” he said.
Rory Medcalf, head of the Australian National University’s National Security College, said, “The plan is primarily about improving Australia’s ability to defend itself — such as through anti-ship missiles, surveillance and stockpiling of ammunition of fuel.”
He added, “But there is also a focus on working with partners such as India, Japan, Indonesia and Vietnam, and the idea is for a more capable Australian military to work with this wider web of players — and not just America — to set limits to Chinese disruption.”
India and Australia ties
Last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held his first virtual bilateral meeting with Morrison. Both vowed to enhance their Comprehensive Strategic Partnership by way of signing the long-pending Mutual Logistics Support Agreement that will seek to increase military inter-operability through defence exercises.
Modi and Morrison also agreed on greater collaboration for an “open, free and rules-based” Indo-Pacific region, according to the joint statement issued after the meeting on 4 June.
Both sides had also agreed to deepen and broaden defence cooperation by enhancing the scope and complexity of their military exercises and engagement activities to develop new ways to address shared security challenges.
Under its new defence strategy, Australia has said that defence activities with India have increased four-fold since 2014.
“Exercise AUSINDEX 2019 focused on anti-submarine warfare and was one of our most complex and successful exercises with India to date,” the paper said.
Last April, Australia and India witnessed their bilateral naval exercise — AUSINDEX — reach the next level with the participation of the highest number of units so far — four frontline ships with integral helicopters, one submarine and a variety of aircraft, including P8I and P8A long-range Maritime Reconnaissance Anti-Submarine Warfare aircraft, it said.
Medcalf, who recently released his book Contest for the Indo-Pacific: Why China Won’t Map the Future, said, “The new defence strategy places a greater emphasis on deterrence. The Australian military will be strengthened to deter coercion or adventurism by major powers in our neighbourhood, with a strong focus on the core Indo-Pacific of Southeast Asia, the northeast Indian Ocean and the South Pacific.”