India, Australia sign on ‘comprehensive strategic partnership’ | India News

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Jun 4, 2020

NEW DELHI: India and Australia elevated their ties to a ‘comprehensive strategic partnership’ as the first virtual summit between PM Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison saw the two countries sign nine agreements, including an important Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) that will allow the navies to cooperate closely.
The convergence came even as both countries have been at the receiving end of Chinese aggression, India on the northern borders and Australia threatened with economic action for demanding an international inquiry into the origin of the Covid-19 virus.
MLSA is a significant step forward. India now has such arrangements with the US, France, Japan and now Australia. It allows India a strategic access deep into the Indo-Pacific region.
It is an indication of the strategic confluence between India and Australia, particularly in the face of an aggressive and expansionist China and its actions even post Covid.
Asked by journalists, MEA’s Secretary (East) Vijay Thakur Singh, however, said there was “no discussion on China”. She added that there was no discussion on “any specific naval exercise”, when asked whether India had invited Australia to the Malabar exercises.
Among the more important decisions was one that elevated the 2+2 dialogue from the secretary level to the ministerial level.
A joint statement on strategic partnership said, “India and Australia share a vision of a free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific region to support the freedom of navigation, over-flight and peaceful and cooperative use of the seas by adherence of all nations to international law including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and peaceful resolution of disputes rather than through unilateral or coercive actions.”
The India-Australia summit comes in the backdrop of both countries dealing with Chinese subversive activities — India with Chinese intrusions in Ladakh and Australia with Chinese influence-peddling operations, which have led to China stopping commodities imports from Australia. Australia was among the first countries to bar China’s Huawei from 5G operations on its territory.
“India-Australia relations have deepened. And this depth comes from our shared values, shared interests, shared geography and shared objectives,” PM Modi said. “How our relations become a ‘factor of stability’ for our region and for the world, how we work together for global good, all these aspects need to be considered.”
Australian PM Morrison said in his opening remarks, “We are committed to an open, inclusive, prosperous Indo-Pacific and India’s role in that region, our region, will be critical in the years ahead. … it’s time for our relationship to go broader and to go deeper …”
A ‘Shared Vision for Maritime Partnership’ said, “India and Australia will work closely to develop, with all interested partners, the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the 14th East Asia Summit on 4 November 2019 at Bangkok. Through this Initiative, they will endeavour to improve the management of the shared oceanic domains, including in key areas of cooperation such as preserving the maritime ecology and reducing the impact of marine pollution (especially plastics); maritime security.”
India has promised to assist Australia with its space programme, while an agreement to cooperate on “critical and strategic minerals” will see India importing lithium and cobalt among others from there. This is an effort to diversify both sources and markets from an over dependence on China. Singh said, “Australia has huge deposits of minerals, we believe it will be a reliable supplier of such minerals.”
The joint statement said, “India and Australia jointly decided to work cooperatively through multilateral, regional and pluri-lateral mechanisms to strengthen and diversify supply chains for critical health, technology and other goods and services.”
Australia and India co-sponsored, along with other countries, a resolution in the WHO recently for an independent investigation into the origin of the coronavirus pandemic. Morrison observed that with India as chair of the executive board of the WHO, “I have no doubt that the way we will be led under India’s leadership will be critical to how we deal with the many difficult problems that we are encountering globally, particularly in the health area”.

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