Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is visiting Australia, wants closer bilateral defense ties

SYDNEY — Narendra Modi arrived in Sydney on his second visit to Australia as India’s prime minister and told local media he wanted to build closer bilateral defense and security ties as China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific grows.

Modi is the only Quad nations leader to go ahead with plans to visit Australia after President Joe Biden pulled out last week to return to Washington to focus on debt relief talks. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who hosted the Group of Seven meeting last week, later canceled his trip to Australia as well.

Modi will address the Indian diaspora at a packed 20,000-seat stadium in Sydney on Tuesday. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will attend the stadium event and plans to hold a bilateral meeting with his Indian counterpart on Wednesday.

Modi told the Australian newspaper on Tuesday that he wants to take India-Australia relations to the “next level”, including strengthening defense and security ties, to help create a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

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“As two democracies, India and Australia share a common interest in a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. Our strategic point of view is aligned,” Modi told the newspaper.

“The high degree of mutual trust that exists between us naturally resulted in increased cooperation in defense and security issues. Our navies participate in joint naval exercises. I believe there is merit in working together to realize the real potential of closer defense and security cooperation,” Modi added.

Modi last visited Australia in November 2014, just months after his government was first elected.

Australia pulled out of the original Quad security dialogue with India, the United States and Japan in 2008, fearing the grouping would trigger a Chinese military buildup. As China took this course anyway, Quad was reformed in 2017, and Australia returned to joint Quad military exercises in 2020.

As the leaders’ summit in Sydney was cancelled, a replacement quad meeting was convened on the sidelines of the G7 summit.

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Modi arrived in Sydney on Monday evening from Papua New Guinea, where he held a meeting with leaders of the Pacific islands to discuss ways of better cooperation.

Asked whether the Australians would raise Muslim and minority rights in India with the Hindu leader, Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said he expected Albanese and Modi to “have a full conversation”.

“We have never had greater strategic alignment with India than we do now. Both countries are deeply invested in the collective security of the Indo-Pacific region,” Marles told reporters in the Australian capital, Canberra.