Australia keen on naval exercises with allies

NEW DELHI • Australia wants to join India, the United States and Japan in joint naval exercises in the Indian Ocean, widening participation in multilateral drills as China's influence in the region grows.

Australian Defence Minister Kevin Andrews said on Wednesday that Australia was concerned about the escalating strategic rivalry in the South China Sea between China and India, saying it could put Asia at the risk of a military blunder.

"Exercising together is one way to avoid some kind of miscalculation happening," he told reporters on the second day of a visit to New Delhi.

India and the US hold the so-called Malabar exercises in the Indian Ocean every year.

This year, Japan will take part, the first time since 2007 the exercises have included a third country - and a sign of closer military ties between allies worried about Chinese activity in the region.

China's increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea has angered neighbours there as well as Japan and the US, two of the major maritime powers in Asia.

China also shocked India last year with two Chinese submarine visits to Sri Lanka, India's island-nation neighbour to the south.

Mr Andrews' visit to New Delhi comes as India and Australia prepare to hold their first bilateral naval manoeuvres next month, where they will showcase their anti-submarine warfare capability.

"Gradually we will expand the range of exercises. We are looking at air force to air force and army to army exercises ," he said.

India last hosted a multilateral exercise in 2007 when it invited Japan, Australia and Singapore to join drills with the US in the Bay of Bengal, prompting disquiet in Beijing.

Although India's Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has expressed interest in Australia's "Bushmaster" armoured infantry vehicle, Mr Andrews said talks on any sales were at an early stage.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2015, with the headline 'Australia keen on naval exercises with allies'. Print Edition | Subscribe