Why it matters who owns the seas

India and Australia are strengthening military ties as tensions rise in the South China Sea

The deals were announced after a hypothetical summit between Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison from India and Narendra Modi from India.

“India is comprehensively and rapidly committed to strengthening its relations with Australia,” said Modi. “This is not only important for our two countries, but for the Indian Pacific region and the world at large.”

“We are committed to an open, inclusive and prosperous role between India and the Pacific and India in that region, our region, that will be critical in the coming years,” Morrison added.

The new agreements, known as the Arrangement of Mutual Logistics Support between Australia and India and Arranging Defense Science and Technology Implementation, come with increased military tensions in the Indian Pacific region, which include in the South China Sea, as China has been strengthening its positions on the disputed islands.

A joint statement after the summit said that the two countries “share a vision of a free, open, inclusive and rule-based Indian Ocean Pacific to support freedom of navigation, aviation and the peaceful and cooperative use of the seas.”

The agreements obligate the two countries to deepen military integration through more sophisticated exercises and enable them to reach each other’s bases to obtain logistical support.

South China Sea

China claims nearly 1.3 million square miles in the South China Sea as its own property, although other claimants have boundaries much closer to the disputed waters. In 2016, a court in The Hague ruled that China had no legal basis to claim historical rights in the greater part of the South China Sea.

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According to the Lowe Institute, Australia has long-standing security ties with the United States and has maintained a long-term presence in the South China Sea, where it has conducted airborne surveillance patrols since 1980.

Australian warships also visit the area regularly, including participating in exercises there with American warships in April.

Last year, Indian warships joined US, Japanese, and Philippine naval vessels crossing the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, India has increased its defense cooperation with the United States, including annual naval exercises in Malabar, which bring together the American and Indian armies alongside the Japanese Self-Defense Forces.

The Australian High Commissioner to India, Barry Ovarell, said in an interview last month that Canberra would be keen to join the Malabar exercises, but no invitation was provided.

The signing came on Thursday as tensions continued to rise on the India-China border in the Himalayas.

Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said on Tuesday that “a great number” of The Chinese forces moved to the actual control line It separates the two countries.

Last month, violent skirmishes across the border between Chinese and Indian forces resulted in slight injuries to the troops. The incident has been followed in recent weeks by unconfirmed reports of tensions in the mountainous region, although neither side has publicly acknowledged anything out of the ordinary.

CNN’s Angus Watson, Reshaphe Madhavendra and Ben Westcott contributed to this report.

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