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Sat. May 18th, 2024

The Australian government has talked up its close ties with Delhi despite reports that two Indian spies were expelled from the country in 2020.

In 2021, Australia’s intelligence chief said that foreign agents had been operating locally in the previous year — but he did not say their nationality.

Multiple news outlets reported this week that they were from India.

Australia has not confirmed or denied those reports but says it is keen to counter foreign interference.

“I don’t propose to get into those stories,” Treasurer Jim Chalmers told the ABC on Wednesday.

“We have got a good relationship with India… It’s an important economic relationship. It’s become closer in recent years as a consequence of efforts on both sides.”

In a speech three years ago, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (Asio) chief Mike Burgess said a “nest of spies” had developed “targeted relationships with current and former politicians, a foreign embassy and a state police service” throughout 2020.

They had “monitored their country’s diaspora community”, asked a public servant about “security protocols at a major airport” and “tried to obtain classified information about Australia’s trade relationships”, Burgess said.

He also said they had recruited an Australian government security clearance holder with knowledge of sensitive defence technology, before their operation was disrupted by Asio.

On Monday, the Washington Post reported that two Indian operatives were expelled by Australia during the 2020 counter-intelligence efforts.

The ABC then reported that a group of Indian agents had targeted classified information on Australian trade, security, and defense projects.

An Asio spokesperson told the BBC that the agency would not comment “on intelligence matters”. The Indian High Commission in Canberra has not responded to a request for comment.

The claims follow recent concerns raised by Western allies about allegations of India’s covert actions on foreign soil. These include accusations it was linked to the murder of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada in June last year — an accusation Delhi vigorously denies.

In recent years, Australia and India have sought to deepen ties via a string of agreements targeting trade, energy and migration.

Alongside the US and Japan, both are members of the strategic Quad alliance, which has the stated aim of bolstering security in the Indo-Pacific, amid concerns over China’s growing influence.

India is Australia’s sixth largest trading partner, while around 750,000 people in Australia claim Indian ancestry. — BBC

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