India and Australia have sealed a deal to get access to each other’s military bases, the Indian foreign ministry said – a pact that would clear the way for more military exchanges and exercises in the Indo-Pacific.
The mutual logistic support agreement was signed during a virtual summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison on Thursday.
The agreement allows Indian and Australian military ships and aircraft to refuel and access maintenance facilities at each other’s bases.
India has a similar pact with the United States, which is seen as part of broader security cooperation to balance China’s growing economic and military weight in the region.
Indian troops are locked in a standoff with Chinese troops on their disputed border, the most serious crisis in years, on top of concerns about a huge trade imbalance in Beijing’s favour.
Australia’s trade frictions with China are also growing, and its push last month for an international review into the origins and spread of the novel coronavirus drew opposition from China.
Morrison was due in India in January but was forced to cancel the trip because of the bushfires crisis in Australia.
The holding of the summit now, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, showed the importance the two leaders attached to bilateral ties, officials said.
“This is the first time that Prime Minister Modi will be holding a bilateral virtual summit. This signifies the strengthening of ties with Australia and its upward trajectory,” Indian foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said before the signing of the deal.
India is also considering Australia’s participation in annual naval exercises it holds with the US and Japan in the Indian and Pacific Oceans in a cementing of security ties between the four countries, military officials said.
A similar exercise in 2007 had angered China.