Mar 15, Colombo: Australia will launch a seven-nation Indian Ocean military exercise next week, starting in Sri Lanka where China has invested in strategic ports and loaned huge amounts to build other infrastructure, AFP reports.
Some 1,000 Australian security personnel in four naval ships and a military aircraft will participate in the biggest joint exercise yet with their Sri Lankan counterparts, Canberra's top envoy in Colombo, Jon Philp, said on Friday.
"Sri Lanka and Australia are increasingly like-minded on maritime security and Indian Ocean issues," Philp said, adding that the two countries will improve defense cooperation and familiarity with each other's defense forces.
Australian forces will move to India on March 26 and thereafter travel to Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore before returning to Darwin after two and a half months.
The joint exercise comes as concerns grow over Beijing's influence on Sri Lanka's economy and Chinese control over two key ports. The largest single lender to Sri Lanka, China has also secured contracts to build roads, railways and ports.
However, Australian envoy played down China's growing presence in the Indian Ocean region saying Canberra considered Beijing a "extremely important" partner.
"We welcome China's role in the region and look forward to working with China," he said.