Indian military base in Cocos (Keeling) Island could be a reality. Amid flaring tensions with China, India and Australia could sign pact to gain strategic access to Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Cocos Island to counter Chinese aggression.
The upcoming virtual bilateral-summit between the Indian PM Narendra Modi and Australian PM Scott Morrison could lay the ground for signing a pact on the mutual use of India’s Andaman and the Nicobar Islands and Australia’s Cocos Islands for military purposes.
It had been reported in January when the Australian PM was originally scheduled for a visit to India that the top leaders intend to discuss upon maritime security and freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific region.
“For India, Australia is a key partner in its Indo-Pacific strategy and for Australia, the Indo-Pacific is of strategic importance. This will be on the agenda for talks between the two sides as well as dialogue on Quad which involves countries including India, Japan, US and Australia,” according to experts.
Even as a trade route, both India and Australia acknowledge the importance attached to it. Moreover, Marie Izuyama a Japanese scholar believes that “the importance Australia places on the Indian Ocean can be observed in the 2013 Defence White Paper.”
“The white paper expresses the view that the Indian Ocean is developing into a trade corridor surpassing the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and states that as Australia has a vital interest in the security of the sea lanes of the Indian Ocean which will be featured in its defence and security planning,” wrote the scholar.
Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Cocos Islands
India’s Andaman and Nicobar islands lie close to the straits of Malacca and Australia’s Cocos islands to the Indonesian straits of Sunda, Lombok, and Ombai-Wetar. Strategically placed, these straits are together the entry and exit points between the Indian and the Pacific Oceans which forms an advantageous prospect in the favour of both India and Australia
In March this year, the Indian Naval forces found that Beijing had deployed about 12 underwater drones in the Indian Ocean to gather oceanography data. This kind of data is generally employed for naval intelligence purposes and primarily submarine warfare. China has often been accused of carrying out similar operations in the Pacific as well.
The islands in question, India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Australia’s Cocos Islands are already been used for surveillance purposes. However, a joint effort that involves a coordinated effort would enable New Delhi and Canberra to strengthen their presence in the region and function more efficiently together.
Experts believe that if the India-Australia pact is signed then New Delhi would find it easy to monitor the area extending between Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the north to Cocos Islands in the south. Similarly, Canberra would not only be enabled to expand its influence in the eastern Indian Ocean but will also have access to a platform for strengthening its military presence in the area.
The multiple chokepoints would also allow efficient tracking of hostile submarines which can lead to joint anti-submarine warfare missions. India-Australia pact around a group of strategic islands which have historically been closed to each other sends a clear message of intensifying trust between two key players of the Indo-Pacific,” writes Darshana Baruah.
Reviewed By Vipasha Kaushal, New Delhi