Richard Marles, Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, said China’s despicable behaviour in the South China Sea (SCS) is comparable to what India saw along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
According to Marles, it is concerning that one country wants to use power rather than norms to resolve border conflicts.
While addressing the media at the Australian High Commission in New Delhi, Marles said, “China is seeking to shape the world around it in ways that we have not seen before and that has evolved over the last decade. In the last few years, we are seeing a more assertive China.”
“We have seen that in the South China Sea and with India along the LAC two years back, the appalling behaviour with Indian soldiers. We stand in solidarity with India in respect of that incident (Galwan). For us, we are experiencing that in the South China Sea (SCS),” he added.
Artificial island development and island reclamation are ongoing in SCS. China is contesting the existing rules-based order, which is crucial for the area, whether it be LAC or SCS, he continued.
Marles outlined China’s status as Australia’s top trading partner. “China is our biggest security anxiety and so is India. At this moment we must be reaching out. We are friends exchanging notes. We are working closely to build our relationship in terms of economic and defence together,” he said.
Focusing on the bilateral connection, he stated that Australia and India share values and are democracies and uphold the rule of law in their respective nations. “We also share geography, Australia is an Indian ocean country and we have security ties and much economic activity in the region. Indian-Australian is the fastest growing community. The Indian Australian community is the largest growing community. We believe we are on the cusp of change,” he said.
On the Russia-Ukraine war, he said that there is no doubt the war on Ukraine has an impact on food and energy security. “We see that as a food exporting nation, maintaining predictable and open trade,” he said.
On the matter of working with India, he said that they have worked in the last two decades to assert a rules-based order. In working closely with India, also with like-minded countries but particularly with India, to try and protect that global rules-based order.
“We welcome statements by both China and Solomon Islands that there is no intention to develop a Chinese permanent military base there. Australia is a natural partner of the Pacific islands. It is not a natural right, but we need to earn it,” he said.
Additionally, Marles focused on marine domain awareness to improve relationships between nations (MDA). For many countries, improving MDA is essential.
On India-Australia defence ties, he said, “We had a couple of P-8 flights between Australia and India. We want to see a greater frequency of activity in operations and exercises. IAF will be taking part in Exercise Pitch Black in August.”
“We had a meeting with the Defence Minister of India…we have invited him to Australia…we need more such engagement. Greater engagement between two Defence forces to ensure we become more and closer, he added.
He also explained that AUKUS is not a security exchange but rather a technology exchange between Australia, the UK, and the US.
“We have seen China and Russia’s practical relationships..so we are very mindful of that. For democracy, it is very important to maintain peace in the world. The position India takes on Ukraine is a matter for India,” he said.