Last Thursday a “virtual” meeting set the course for the Indian Ocean region.
Australia’s PM Scott Morrison and Indian PM Narendra Modi met online.
Both shared the same problem – how to ensure security in “our” Indian Ocean region when China is becoming so active there.
These two leaders have ensured that for decades the two countries will become even closer strategic friends, and that both will lead in determining power in the Indian Ocean.
Neither country ever expresses expansionist plans. Both just want the freedom and security they cherish.
This is a real boost to the India-Australia relationship because, let’s face it, there has not been much spark of interest between the two countries. Lots of words, but nothing tangible. Modi and Morrison have changed all that. Now it is real.
What security deals came out of the meeting?
First, allowing reciprocal access to each other’s military bases for logistics support such as refuelling and maintenance. Sounds mundane, but it is a key step to closer military exercises and training.
Second a maritime cooperation agreement supporting the “rules-based” maritime order in the region, founded on respect for the sovereignty of all nations and international law, particularly the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. “Rules based” means “not China”.
Third, an agreement to cooperate on critical cyber and other technologies.
There were six other agreements and commentators are saying the two leaders found many ways of implying that “this is all about China”.
But I think it is really about the future of the Indian Ocean.
The two countries – India and Australia – have middle level defensive capacities and could unite a string of countries in the region in some form of security net. Likely additions would be Vietnam and Indonesia.
It will be values based. Modi told Morrison, “it is our sacred responsibility to uphold and protect values for global good like democracy, rule of law, freedom, mutual respect, regard for international institutions and transparency.” These values, he said, were under challenge.
This Indian Ocean deal could make the region one of stability at a time of China’s rise to power and the unpredictability – and decline – of the USA.