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Australia hopes to be part of Malabar naval exercises in future

LiveMint logoLiveMint 18-07-2017 Elizabeth Roche

New Delhi: Australia on Tuesday said it hoped it would be part of a multi-nation Malabar naval exercises in the future after reports last month said that India rejected a request from Canberra to take part in the war games that India participates in annually with the US and Japan, mindful of annoying China.

Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop on a two-day visit to India also told reporters in New Delhi that the first consignment of uranium shipped from Australia was in transit to reach India under a pact signed in 2014, two years after Australia’s then ruling Labour Party lifted a ban on selling uranium to power starved India. Australia has about 40% of the world’s known uranium reserves but no nuclear power plants.

On the operative day of her visit on Tuesday, Bishop met Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj for the 11th India-Australia framework dialogue, called on Indian defence and finance minister Arun Jaitely and also on Prime minister Narendra Modi.

India and Australia have “a deep and growing partnership in many areas including defence and security counter terrorism, countering violent extremism,” Bishop later told journalists. She described her meeting with Modi -- which covered regional and global challenges besides bilateral issues -- as “interesting” and her overall visits as “interesting, productive and fruitful.”

When asked about Australia’s non-participation in the Malabar exercises despite its defence minister Marise Payne expressing Canberra’s keen interest in participating in the exercises, Bishop said “Australia is always keen to take part in naval exercises to improve inter-operability between friends and partners...We carried out second iteration of AUSINDEX naval exercises between Australia and India...It is up to each country to determine which exercises they want to participate in and with whom but Australia will hopefully be part of exercises Malabar in the future.”

The Malabar exercises began as India-US drills in 1992 but have included Japan since 2014. A number of warships, submarines and aircraft took part in the wargames held in the Bay of Bengal last week, which are aimed at getting the Indian, American and Japanese navies used to working together.

According to officials, this is expected to help in future operations, including joint patrols across the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

When asked about uranium shipments to India under the 2014 deal, Bishop said the “first shipment of uranium was on its way.”

India operates 20 atomic reactors with a capacity of 4,780 megawatts (MW), or 2% of its total power capacity, according to the Nuclear Power Corp. of India Ltd. The Australian government under Labor Party PM Kevin Rudd had refused to sell radioactive material to India because it had not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT). But his successor Julia Gillard, also from the Labor Party, worked with her colleagues to overturn the embargo. It was Gillard’s successor Tony Abbott of the Liberal Party who signed the pact with prime minister Narendra Modi.

Bishop also said she had briefed Swaraj about Australia scrapping a popular work visa used by about 100,000 foreign workers, a majority of them Indians, in April. She said that a new system -- of two separate visas -- had been introduced instead of popular 457 visa programme.

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