Indo-Pacific in focus as Modi meets Australian PM in first bilateral virtual summit | India News

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Jun 2, 2020

NEW DELHI: The first virtual bilateral summit this week by any Indian prime minister, in the form of an interaction between PM Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison, will see a renewed focus on the Indo-Pacific, as the global pandemic rages and major powers seek to corner China over a range of issues.
Ahead of the summit, official sources said India and Australia had a common approach to a free open, inclusive, and prosperous Indo-Pacific and that this had led to convergence of mutual interest in many areas.
The relations are strong not only at the bilateral level, but also, as an official put it, at the plurilateral level. Australia has supported India’s global initiatives such as ISA, CDRI and Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative. It also supports India’s membership of an expanded UNSC.
While Australia has been supportive of India’s position on cross-border terrorism and the need for Pakistan to take meaningful action against terrorist groups operating from its soil, it’s important for the government that Canberra firmly holds the view that recent developments with regard to J&K are India’s internal matters.
The two leaders are also expected to discuss at length the global response to Covid-19. Australia has been vocal in seeking a probe into the origin of the novel coronavirus and has drawn China’s wrath for the same. Both countries have recently been worried about the situation in South China Sea and have underlined the significance of freedom of navigation and overflight in the region and also the need for all parties to adhere to international laws.
It remains to be seen though if the Australians bring up the Hong Kong issue in the meeting. Australia joined the US, UK and Canada in condemning China’s new security law in Hong Kong. With Japan also having spoken up in favour of a free and open Hong Kong, India is the only Quad nation to have not made any public statement on the issue. India of course finds itself in a cleft stick, encumbered as it is by its border dispute with China and the ongoing standoff in Ladakh.
China has also emphasised before India that Hong Kong is “purely China’s internal affairs” and that no side will allow separatist activities which endanger its security.
As two democratic nations, sources here said though, India and Australia had developed an understanding of each other’s perspectives on regional and global issues
Defence and maritime security cooperation will also be a major focus area in the summit. The two countries commenced their first bilateral naval exercise AUSINDEX in 2015 focussed at deepening defence and maritime cooperation especially in the Indian Ocean. There is also regular staff to staff talks between the three wings of the Armed Forces.
Official sources said several MoUs are being discussed. The two countries signed a Framework for Security Cooperation in November 2014 during the visit of Modi to Australia. According to India, it laid an action plan on foreign, defence and security policy exchanges and coordination.
“Several new initiatives and bilateral/trilateral mechanisms such as Foreign Secretaries and Defence Secretaries 2+ 2 Dialogue, India-Australia-Indonesia Trilateral Dialogue, India-Australia-Japan Trilateral Dialogue have been established since then. These new platforms have provided greater momentum to strengthen our strategic cooperation,” said a source.
Australia recognises India as a pre-eminent maritime power among Indian Ocean countries and a “front-rank partner of Australia”.
India-Australia economic engagement has been growing too. The current trade levels are US $ 20.92 (2018-19), say Indian officials. India exported goods and services worth US $ 5.17 billion and imported goods and services worth US $ 15.75 in 2018-19. “Australia’s cumulative investment in India is about US$ 10.74 billion whereas India’s total investment in Australia is US$ 10.45 billion,” said a source.
This will also be Modi’s 5th meeting with Morrison in the past 2 years. They met earlier on the sidelines of EAS in Singapore (14 November 2018), on the sidelines of G20 in Osaka (29 June 2019), on the margins of G7 Summit in Biarritz (25 August 2019) and on the margins of EAS in Bangkok (04 November 2019).

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