Indicating the outlook of the upcoming first major bilateral talk after the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia's High Commissioner to India Barry O’Farrell has raised concern over developments in the South China Sea and the importance of “promoting free open Indo-Pacific”.
“We have a substantial interest in the region and we will support other countries. We have expressed our concern and use of maritime militias in the region”, says Australian High Commissioner Barry O’Farrell on the South China Sea.
The statement comes ahead of the signing of an agreement for reciprocal access to military logistics facilities and other defence pacts on 4 June.
Australia's high commissioner, who took charge as ambassador to India earlier this year, emphasised the obligation to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific by the two partners. The region spans from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian subcontinent as part of a US strategy to keep China out of economic developments in the region.
In a bid to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific, the quad partners — India, Australia, Japan and the US — have been contemplating several pacts, including that of logistic supply agreements.
The Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA), similar to the India-US military pact, was finalised at a defence and foreign ministers' meeting last December, but could not be signed in January as Prime Minister Morrison’s visit was called off due to the Australian bushfires.
India has also been talking about signing a logistics supply agreement with Japan, which is the fourth partner of the quartet besides Australia and the US.
Last Month, O’Farrell termed the increasing presence of Chinese vessels in the area as “actions to disrupt other countries’ resource exploitation activities and the dangerous and coercive use of coast guard vessels and so called maritime militias”.
China and the US have increased their military activities in the region, which is a strategically important route for access to Southeast Asia. China says that it enjoys sovereign rights over much of the relevant waters, but the White House has accused Beijing of exploiting the coronavirus pandemic in order to strengthen its presence in the region.