Australia and India on Thursday signed a wide-ranging maritime declaration to support the rules-based maritime order in the Indo-Pacific region founded on respect for the sovereignty of all nations, marking a major step forward in the bilateral security and defence relationship.
The declaration came after an online summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison.
"The Joint Declaration on Maritime Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific commits our nations to support the rules-based maritime order in the region, founded on respect for the sovereignty of all nations and international law, particularly the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)," Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said in her official statement.
India, the US and several other world powers have been talking about the need to ensure a free, open and thriving Indo-Pacific in the backdrop of China's rising military maneuvering in the region.
China has been trying to expand its military presence in the Indo-Pacific, which is a biogeographic region comprising the Indian Ocean and the western and central Pacific Ocean, including the South China Sea.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claims over the sea.
"Importantly, the partnership extends to working together to strengthen maritime domain awareness throughout the Indo-Pacific, and combating transnational challenges such as people smuggling, arms and narcotics trafficking, climate change, terrorism, and illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing," she said.
The declaration also sought to step up cooperation and capacity-building in regional and multilateral forums, including through Australian support for Prime Minister Modi's Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative.
Expanded Australia-India cooperation on maritime safety and security will be marked in particular by building stronger links between coastguard and civil maritime agencies, and by developing deeper navy-to-navy engagement.
The minister also announced inking a landmark, cooperative arrangement with India on cyber affairs and critical technology.
"As part of the Australia-India Leaders' Virtual Summit held today, I was pleased to join my Indian counterpart, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, in signing the Australia-India Framework Arrangement on Cyber and Cyber-Enabled Critical Technologies Cooperation," she said.
"The arrangement will enhance our bilateral cooperation on cyber and critical technology issues, which sit at the core of our new Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with India.
"Under the arrangement, Australia and India will work together to promote and preserve an open, free, safe and secure Internet, enhance digital trade, harness critical technology opportunities and address cybersecurity challenges," she said.
"Critical technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing and robotics present significant opportunities for people, businesses and the broader economy, but also must be guided by international standards to ensure they do not present risks to security or prosperity," Payne said.
"That is why the arrangement will be complemented by a new, four-year USD 12.7 million Australia-India Cyber and Critical Technology Partnership," the minister added.
The partnership would create a research and development fund for Indian and Australian businesses and researchers, and support other countries to improve their cyber resilience.