Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, visiting Australia, wants closer bilateral defense ties


Sydney (AP) — Narendra Modi has arrived in Sydney for his second Australian visit as India’s prime minister and told local media he wants closer bilateral defense and security ties as China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region grows.

Modi is the only one of the Quad nations’ leaders to continue with his Australian visit plans after President Joe Biden pulled out last week to return to Washington to focus on debt limit talks. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who hosted a Group of Seven meeting last week, later canceled his Australia trip as well.

Modi is giving an address to the Indian diaspora at a sold-out 20,000-seat Sydney stadium Tuesday. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will attend the stadium event and has a bilateral meeting scheduled with his Indian counterpart on Wednesday.

Modi told Tuesday’s edition of The Australian newspaper he wanted to take India’s relationship with Australia to the “next level,” including closer defense and security ties to help ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

“As two democracies, India and Australia have shared interests in a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific. There is alignment of our strategic viewpoint,” Modi told the newspaper.

“The high degree of mutual trust between us has naturally translated into greater cooperation on defense and security matters. Our navies are participating in joint naval exercises. I am confident that there is merit in working together to realise the true potential in closer defense and security cooperation,” Modi added.

Albanese told Parliament that Australia will for the first time host the Malabar naval exercises involving India, the United States and Japan this year in another sign of a deepening commitment to the Quad.

“India is a key strategic partner,” Albanese told Parliament.

“We are both part of a growing and dynamic region and Prime Minister Modi is a very welcome visitor to our shores,” Albanese added.

Albanese also said he and Modi expected to complete negotiations on a free trade deal before the end of the year.

“That will create Australian jobs, helping our industries prosper, sparking growth in innovation,” Albanese said.

Negotiations on the deal began in 2011. The Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement would increase the scope of a bilateral trade pact that came into force in December last year.

India is Australia’s sixth largest trading partner with the two-way exchange of goods and services valued at 46.5 billion Australian dollars ($31 billion) last year.

Australia is keen to increase trade with India as a means of diversifying from China, Australia’s biggest trading partner. Australian efforts to improve trade relations with India have gained urgency in recent years as Beijing has closed down markets for targeted Australian exports.

Albanese also said cooperation on renewable energy would also be discussed.

Modi last visited Australia in November 2014 only months after his government was first elected.

Australia had pulled out of the original Quad security dialogue with India, the United States and Japan in 2008, fearing the grouping would provoke a Chinese military buildup. Since China took that course anyway, the Quad reformed in 2017 and Australia returned to joint Quad military exercises in 2020.

With the Sydney leaders’ summit cancelled, a substitute Quad meeting was convened on the sidelines of the G7 summit.

Modi arrived in Sydney on Monday night from Papua New Guinea, where he had hosted a meeting with Pacific Island leaders to discuss ways to better cooperate.

Asked if Australian would raise Muslim and minority rights in India with the Hindu leader, Richard Marles, Australia’s deputy prime minister, said he expected Albanese and Modi would have a “full conversation.”

“We have never had a greater strategic alignment with India than we do right now. Both countries are deeply invested in the collective security of the Indo-Pacific region,” Marles told reporters in the Australian capital Canberra.

Sydney doctor Vani Arjunamani, one of the organizers of a rally that Modi is expected to attend, said the Indian leader was drawing bigger crowds than he did when he last visited Australia in 2014.

Thousands of the Indian diaspora gathered in Sydney streets wearing brightly colored clothing and beating drums in excited anticipation of seeing Modi.

“It’s very interesting, isn’t it? Is there another head of state that can pull this crowd? It is very unusual,” Arjunamani told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

She said Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Jewish community leaders supported the rally.

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