India and Australia on Wednesday decided to bolster defence ties, as they acknowledged that maritime security and freedom of navigation is critical for the growth and prosperity of Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, at a time when China's postures in the seas have caused concerns.
On a historic visit to Australia, Defence Minister A K Antony on Wednesday met his counterpart Stephen Smith in Canberra and held wide-ranging talks on shared strategic and security interests, including maritime security and defence ties.
"The two leaders exchanged ideas concerning regional and international security as well as defence cooperation and exchanges between the two sides," said an official statement issued by the Australian defence ministry after the talks.
Antony, who is the first ever Indian defence minister to visit Australia, had met Smith Tuesday in Perth for a short duration and they flew together to Canberra for the dialogue.
"Both sides acknowledged that maritime security and freedom of navigation in accordance with principles of international law is critical for the growth and prosperity of the Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean regions," a joint statement said.
They agreed to continue ongoing bilateral naval exchanges to build confidence and familiarity between their navies and work towards a bilateral maritime exercise in 2015.
The joint statement came amidst flexing of muscles by China in the South China Sea and East China Sea.
China has in the recent past used its naval ships and aircraft to intimidate neighbouring countries including Japan which are in dispute with Beijing over maritime rights.
China has also increased presence of its maritime forces, including submarines and warships, in the Indian Ocean region.
"The defence ministers acknowledged deepening strategic and defence cooperation between Australia and India. They agreed to continue to contribute to the peace, stability and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region and to promote cooperation in the Indian Ocean region," the statement said.
During the meeting, the two ministers took a note of the progress made in defence cooperation and agreed that interactions held between the defence establishments of both sides in a variety of fields and at various levels have been mutually beneficial.
"During today's dialogue, Minister Antony and I agreed to practical measures that will further enhance bilateral defence cooperation between Australia and India," Smith said.
It was "a timely opportunity to review progress in the bilateral defence relationship and to examine areas for further collaboration", he said.
Both sides were pleased with the bilateral architecture established for pursuing defence cooperation and agreed that consultations have helped in deepening mutual trust and understanding between the defence establishments.
They also took note of the growing cooperation between the navies of both countries.
India also accepted Australia's invitation for Indian naval ship participation in the International Fleet Review to be held in Sydney in October 2013.
Antony's visits comes days after Australian government released a defence white paper recently which noted that, "India is emerging as an important strategic, diplomatic and economic actor, 'looking east,' and becoming more engaged in regional frameworks."
The 2013 Australian Defence White Paper outlines the profound strategic changes occurring as economic, strategic and military weight shift to the Indo-Pacific region.
"India and Australia have a shared interest in helping to address these strategic changes, including through defence collaboration," Smith said.
Image: Defence Minister A K Antony at a reception hosted by his Australian counterpart Stephen Smith at Perth on Tuesday
Photograph courtesy: PIB