by Saket Singh

Full Content Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison could sign a much-awaited maritime defence pact between the two nations in an upcoming virtual summit scheduled on June 4, 2020. Once signed it will allow the militaries of India and Australia to access each other military islands i.e. India’s Andaman & Nicobar island and Australia’s Cocos island. The Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSP) pact was expected to be signed during the Australian Prime Minister visit to India, but the visit was called off due to bush fires in Australia. India has signed a similar pact with countries like the US, Singapore, France, and South Korea which allow each other to use their bases for logistics support.

Both countries are witnessing China’s aggression whether it may be the South China Sea (SCS) or the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Two months back about 12 Chinese underwater drones were caught in the IOR. Interestingly, Australia was the first country that wished to have a probe on the COVID-19 pandemic. This turned the Chinese upside down and the its state-run media mouthpiece of CCP started demanding economic sanctions on Australia. India’s Andaman & Nicobar island is strategically an important asset and its close to the straits of Malacca while Australia’s Cocos island is close to the Indonesian straits of Sunda, Lombak, and Ombai-Wetar. The straits of Malacca is very narrow and is the single entry and exit point for India to access the Pacific region and vice-versa for Australia to access the IOR. The presence of China is increasing in the SCS and if they try to block the Malacca straits there will be an option left for India and Australia to counter that. Cocos (Kelling) island is an Australian external territory in the IOR, comprising of the small archipelago midway between two island nations: Australia and Sri Lanka and closer to the Indonesian straits.

Impact of This Pact

Experts believe once the agreement signed it will provide India an eye to monitor between the Andaman & Nicobar island in the north to the Cocos island in the south. The agreement will also vast our search domain in sea communication. The choke-points Sunda and Lombak which lies in the Indonesian straits are the viable Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) which remain outside the Indian domain. But mutual use of Cocos island will allow the Indian side to have access to this important SLOC. Similarly, the Australian side will have access to use the straits of Malacca to monitor the Chinese presence in SCS. The Chinese military is building the infrastructure in the SCS which likely to create unbalance in the region and it can also hinder sea security. Straits of Malacca, Sunda, and Lombak is an important route for transportation of crude oil and petroleum products. From the point of strategically and economically, both India and Australia don’t want China to have upper-hand in these regions

Way Forward

Both countries are part of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD) or QUAD a group formed to counter China aggression in the Indo-Pacific region. The Australian acknowledges the importance of IOR and expresses that it has a vital interest in the security of the sea lanes.

Andaman & Nicobar island and Cocos island are used for surveillance purposes by the militaries of India and Australia. The joint effort would help New Delhi and Canberra to explore their domain in monitoring and tracking hostile submarines, ships, and drones. The agreement will further enable smooth functioning and help to strengthen each other militaries in the region.

Saket Singh is an amateur Defence watcher and is pursuing his favourite hobby of writing for newspapers, journals and think tanks. Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IDN