A top Australian official’s visit comes amid regional tensions between Canberra and Beijing
The Australian Air Force chief has held a series of meetings with senior military officials in India, pledging to strengthen bilateral ties as Canberra warns China of further expansion into the Indo-Pacific.
Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, the chief of the Royal Australian Air Force, has met separately with senior figures in the Indian Army, including Army Chief General Manoj Pande† Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhariand Navy Chief Admiral R Hari Kumar† Each branch marked the visit with brief statements online.
“Issues of mutual interest and ways to improve bilateral defense cooperation were discussed” at the meeting, the New Delhi Air Force said in a tweet, later shared by its Australian counterpart.
— Royal Australian Air Force (@AusAirForce) May 9, 2022
Hupfeld also sat down with Indian Defense Minister Ajay Kumar for a “very hot” and “friendly” dialogue, Kumar announced in a tweet of his own, also sharing photos of the meeting.
While the officials only described their talks in general terms, the meetings come amid growing security ties between New Delhi and Canberra, who forged a deeper strategic partnership in 2020 after signing a key deal to grant reciprocal access to each other’s military bases. The Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) also increases logistics and maintenance assistance between the two parties, in addition to boosting overall defense cooperation.
Hupfeld’s visit also coincides with rising tensions between Australia and China after Beijing signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands, a nation in the Pacific Ocean about 1,700 kilometers off Australia’s northeast coast. Officials in Canberra have repeatedly denounced Beijing over the security agreement, suggesting it would use the agreement to gain a military foothold far beyond its borders.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently said a Chinese military base on the Solomons is a… “Red line” for Canberra, although later clarified that that simply means Australia will “work with partners to ensure such an outcome is prevented.” He didn’t specify exactly how that would be achieved, but said it would be “unwise” to speculate on what steps Australia and its allies might take.
Chinese officials, meanwhile, have dismissed Canberra’s warnings as: “wild comments to smear China and call for war”, and said the bleak predictions of a new Chinese military base in the Solomons are: “pure misinformation made up by a handful of people who harbor ulterior motives.”