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India, Aus to explore new initiatives to further expand bilateral defence engagements

NEW DELHI (PTI): Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his visiting Australian counterpart Richard Marles will explore new initiatives to further expand bilateral defence engagements in their talks today.

The defence ministry said the two ministers will also exchange views on regional and global issues of shared interest.

It said the India-Australia comprehensive strategic partnership is based on a shared vision of "free, open, inclusive and prosperous" Indo-Pacific region.

The visit by Marles is the first high-level trip to India from Australia after Prime Minister Anthony Albanese's centre-left Labor Party came to power last month defeating predecessor Scott Morrison's conservative coalition in the parliamentary elections.

Marles, who is also deputy prime minister of Australia, began his four-day visit to India on Monday.

"The two ministers will review the defence cooperation between the two countries and explore new initiatives to further strengthen bilateral engagements. They will also exchange views on regional and global issues of shared interest," the defence ministry in a statement.

Marles visited Goa Shipyard Ltd in Goa.

"India and Australia share a comprehensive strategic partnership since June 2020 and defence is a key pillar of this partnership. The partnership is based on a shared vision of free, open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific region," the defence ministry said.

"The two democracies have a common interest in peace and prosperity of the entire region," it said in a statement.

The deputy prime minister also participated in a Yoga session on the occasion of International Yoga Day.

"An early morning start with some yoga, ahead of a busy couple of days here in India. Looking forward to a packed couple of days, meeting my counterparts and seeing firsthand our close partnership," he tweeted.

In his response on Twitter, Sing said: "Glad to see the Deputy Prime Minister and the Defence Minister of Australia, @RichardMarlesMP doing Yoga on the #InternationalDayofYoga."

"His participation in the Yoga Day programme makes these celebrations remarkable and special. Looking forward to meet him in New Delhi," Singh added.

On Monday, Marles described India as one of Australia's "closest" security partners and said Canberra is keen to work closely with it for an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific.

The ties between India and Australia have been on an upswing in the last few years.

In April, the two countries inked a trade pact to diversify bilateral trade.

In June 2020, India and Australia elevated their ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership and signed a landmark deal for reciprocal access to military bases for logistics support.

The Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) allows the militaries of the two countries to use each other's bases for repair and replenishment of supplies, besides facilitating scaling up of overall defence cooperation.

The Australian Navy was part of the Malabar naval exercise hosted by India in November 2020 as well as last year.

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