The invitation to Malabar exercise is another important step in Australia’s deepening relationship with India and builds on the Australia-India Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP), which Prime Minister Morrison and Prime Minister Modi agreed during the Virtual Summit this June, O’ Farrell told ET in an exclusive interaction on Friday days after India announced decision to include Australia in 2020 Malabar exercise ending all speculations.
O’ Farrell, a former politician, is of further opinion that defence exercises like Malabar are key to enhancing maritime capabilities, building interoperability, and demonstrating collective resolve to support an open and prosperous Indo-Pacific.
“Malabar complements broader bilateral engagement including through Australia-India Joint Maritime Declaration and the Mutual Logistics Support Arrangement… our defence relationship is at a historical high point – we increased our defence activities four-fold between 2014 and 2019.”
Exercise Malabar – led and managed by India – will bolster the ability of India, Australia, Japan and the United States to work together to uphold peace and stability across the region, the envoy said, adding it also shows India continued to play a significant leadership role in Indo-Pacific security and stability.
However, he was quick to point out that the Quad is not, and is not intended to be, a formal alliance. “Australia participates in the Quad to align and coordinate cooperation with partners on a range of regional issues. The Quad is a diplomatic network that assists us, as democracies, to align ourselves in support of shared interests towards an open, inclusive and resilient Indo-Pacific. The Quad Foreign Ministers’ meeting came at an important time in the Indo-Pacific where our shared interests are under unprecedented pressure, including as the region responds to COVID-19. Our priority is to consolidate existing arrangements among Quad partners.”
Suggesting a constructive relationship with China the envoy called for peaceful settlement of disputes according to international law. He also suggested regional economic integration based on open markets and international law.
Referring to Canberra’s Indo-Pacific vision, O’ Farrell without naming China, emphasised that Australia was taking forward a proactive agenda in support of its vision for an Indo-Pacific, which is one of open markets, rules and norms, sovereign independence and strategic balance. In this regard the envoy referred to ASEAN centrality as the core of Indo-Pacific and working more cohesively, more consistently and more often with key partners like India, Japan, Indonesia, France, the Republic Korea, Vietnam, New Zealand and the US.
He also emphasised on the significance of trilaterals involving India-Australia and third countries. “Japan and Indonesia are vital partners for both Australia and India…I should add that France is also a major player in the Indian Ocean and Pacific that can help build regional architecture and cooperation.”