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India and Australia to hold 1st joint naval exercise this year

NEW DELHI (PTI): India and Australia will undertake their first joint naval exercise later this year even as the two along with Japan look at the possibility of a trilateral exercise, a move that will likely rile China.

India, Japan and Australia have decided to deepen their ties in all sectors, especially in the field of maritime security, defence sources said.

The trio had held their first-ever high-level trilateral dialogue in New Delhi last week which was attended by Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, Japanese vice foreign minister Akitaka Saiki and Australian secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Peter Varghese.

While they discussed a range of issues, maritime security, including freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and trilateral maritime cooperation in the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean topped the agenda.

"The three countries have agreed to deepen their defence ties with each other. Discussion on a possible trilateral naval exercise was held but no decision has been taken," sources said.

They added that India and Australia will undertake their first joint naval exercise later this year.

The naval exercise with Australia is likely to be held side-by-side with a similar Indian exercise with Japan scheduled later in September-October, the sources said.

China had reacted sharply earlier when, in 2007, the three nations had carried out such joint talks with the US.

Following the talks, Australia and Japan had taken part in the bilateral exercise between India and US called the 'Malabar Exercise', which had irked China.

While the US was not part of the trilateral discussions this time around, Washington is the main security ally of both Japan and Australia.

The US is "rebalancing" itself to Asia Pacific and is keen that India, Japan and Australia deepen their ties.

Following last week's meeting, Japanese vice foreign minister Saiki had said India, Japan and Australia are on the "same page" over increasing assertiveness of China in the disputed South China Sea.

Asserting that an aggressive posture was a matter of grave concern to his country, Saiki had said the issue was discussed at length.


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