India, Australia ink military logistics sharing pact

India, Australia open up military bases for each other amid growing belligerence of China

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison

India and Australia on Tuesday opened up their military bases for each other’s army, navy and air force – a move, which could raise the hackles of China.   

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison holding a virtual summit, New Delhi and Canberra sent out a message to Beijing as they agreed to raise the bilateral relations to a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership” and to step up defence cooperation by enhancing scope and complexity of joint war drills. They also agreed to “deepen navy-to-navy cooperation and strengthen maritime domain awareness in the Indo-Pacific region through enhanced exchange of information”.

The move came amid China’s growing belligerence, not only in the contested waters of South China Sea and East China Sea, but also on its disputed boundary with India.

Modi on Thursday told Morrison that the democratic nations like India and Australia had the “sacred responsibility to uphold and protect the values of global welfare, such as democracy, rule of law, freedom, mutual respect, respect for international institutions and transparency.” “It is in a way our heritage for the future. Today, when these values are being challenged in different ways, we can strengthen them by strengthening mutual relations.”

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Australia’s recent demand for a probe into the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic in China also strained its bilateral relations with the communist country, which retaliated by raising tariff on import of barley from Down Under. China also banned import of beef from four large abattoirs in Australia.  

Beijing was also irked after the Australian Navy a few weeks back sent a frigate to join the US warships in South China Sea.     

“In a time like this, we want to deal very much with friends and trusted partners, and this is a partnership which has stood the test time and again,” said Morrison.   

The signing Mutual Logistics Support Arrangement (MLSA) was announced after Modi and Morrison had the virtual bilateral summit. The pact will set up a framework for the militaries of India and Australia to share logistics and help each other by providing food, water, billet, transport, petroleum, oils, lubricants, clothing, communications and medical services to each other’s personnel. It also allow sharing of military bases, storage, other facilities, training services, spare parts and components as well as providing repair and maintenance and the services at the airports and seaports to each other.

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It was the second such agreement New Delhi signed with another member of the Quad – a bloc comprising India, United States, Japan and Australia, which was re-launched in November 2017 – ostensibly to bring Indo-Pacific democracies together and build a bulwark against expansionist aspirations of China. The Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) between India and the United States was signed in August 2016. India is also expected to sign soon a similar military logistics sharing pact – formally known as Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) – with Japan.

Modi and Morrison on Thursday issued a joint India-Australia “Vision for Maritime Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific”. They called for a “free, open, inclusive and rules based Indo-Pacific region”.

They underlined the shared interest of the two nations in ensuring freedom of navigation and over-flight in the Indo-Pacific region and maintaining open, safe and efficient sea lanes for transportation and communication. India and Australia have common concerns regarding the strategic, security and environmental challenges in the Indo-Pacific maritime domain. They called for adherence by all nations to international law including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and peaceful resolution of disputes rather than through unilateral or coercive actions”.