Rezaul H Laskar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
India and Australia elevated their ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership and signed a crucial agreement for reciprocal access to military logistics during a virtual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his counterpart Scott Morrison on Thursday.
The two sides also upgraded their “2+2” foreign affairs and defence dialogue to the ministerial level and unveiled a “shared vision for maritime cooperation in the Indo- Pacific”.
The Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA), one of seven agreements signed during the summit, will facilitate reciprocal access to military logistics facilities, allow for more complex joint military exercises and improve interoperability between the armed forces of the two countries.
“India is committed to expanding its relations with Australia in a comprehensive and quick manner. This is important not only for our two countries, but also for the Indo-Pacific region and the world,” Modi said in his opening televised remarks in Hindi.
Morrision said the comprehensive strategic partnership formed by the two sides will take them “to a whole new level of relationship” and “continue to build the trust because we want commercial and trading relationships that are built on trust”.
Referring to the joint declaration on cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, he added, “We share an ocean and we share responsibilities for that ocean as well – its health, well-being [and] security and the relationship we're forming around those issues and our maritime domain is the platform for so many other things between our countries.”
The summit was held against the backdrop of growing tensions with China for both India and Australia, though secretary (east) Vijay Thakur Singh of the external affairs ministry told an online briefing there was no specific discussion on China.
However, many of the items on the agenda – shared democratic values, rules-based multilateral systems, an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific, respect for transparency, strengthening and diversifying supply chains for critical health, technology and other goods and services, and cooperation in rare earth minerals – appeared to be aimed at countering China's influence in the region, experts said.
Modi said the two sides should focus on how their relationship can be a “factor of stability for our region and for the world”, while Morrison said Australia is working with friends such as India and Japan to provide a “steadying and stabilising and wise influence during…an incredibly difficult time”.
Morrison said Australia is “committed to an open, inclusive, prosperous Indo-Pacific and India's role in that region…will be critical”. He added, “We share a vision for open, free, rules-based multilateral systems in our region, whether that's in the health area or it's in trade or in other places.”