On Thursday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the comprehensive strategic partnership with India as a “new level” of bilateral cooperation based on trust and complimented Prime Minister Narendra Modi for playing an important part in stabilizing the Indo-Pacific region during the difficult times.
The two leaders during their first virtual bilateral summit discussed a range of issues including trade, defence, education as well as the COVID-19 crisis.
The summit was held after Morrison had to cancel his trip to India in January, 2020 due to the devastating bushfires season in Australia.
The online summit took off with Morrison thanking Modi for his leadership and also lauded his role in G-20 and the Indo-Pacific, describing him as a leader who played an important part in stabilising and constructing with wise inputs in the difficult times.
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”These are the incredible difficult times for all of our countries in the region,” Morrison said, recognising Modi’s efforts.
”Our relation is a very comfortable relationship, very natural relation, so much in common, so much as shared, if not in language always certainly in the things and values that matter we hold,” Morrison said, adding that the two sides needed to champion those values together in the region and independently.
Morrison said that the two nations can achieve a lot in the years to come as they have done in the past.
”We are committed to open, an inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific and that India’s role in that region will be critical in the years ahead,” he said.
While the two nations shared strong cultural links, Morrison said it was time to broaden further and deepen the relationship.
He announced that the two countries would issue a Joint Declaration on a shared vision for a Maritime Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, amidst China flexing its military muscles in the region.
China is engaged in hotly contested territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas. Beijing has also made substantial progress in militarising its manmade islands in the past few years, which it says it has the right to defend.
China claims sovereignty over all of the South China Sea. But Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claims. In the East China Sea, Beijing has territorial disputes with Japan.
”We share an ocean and we share a responsibility for that ocean, its health, wellbeing and its security and the relationship we are forming around those issues and our maritime domain,” Morrison told Modi, highlighting that it was a platform for so many other issues including defence science, technology arrangement, mutual logistic support arrangement.
”These are the opportunities which will provide opportunities to many other commercial opportunities that will come our way, Morrison said.
Morrison said that even though the trade and investment between the two sides were not where they needed to be, they were growing.
Stating that the trade relations can grow much faster, Morrison said that ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) was taking the relationship to a whole new level.
”CSP that we are forming today is going to a whole new level of relationship. We will continue to build trust because we want business and trading relationship which are build on trust,” Morrison said.
He also thanked Prime Minister Modi for recognising the efforts of Australian government to look after Indian students in Australia during the COVID-19 crisis.
Morrison said India’s role in global health scenario was very critical, especially when it is now representing as the Chair of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Executive Board.
Last month, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan took charge as the chairman of the Executive Board at the WHO.
Morrison called the agreements between the two countries in the areas of cyber and science, infrastructure, trade and education a grand portfolio of specific and very practical arrangements that will form a substance to the CSP.
The Australian Prime Minister also extended his condolences to Modi over the fatalities in India due to COVID-19 and the gas leak at a plant in Visakhapatnam, stating that these were the testing times for the country.
In the virtual summit, Modi called it “a new model of India-Australia partnership, a new model of conducting business”.
It was the first time that Modi held a “bilateral” virtual summit with a foreign leader.
The prime minister described his talks with Morrison as “an outstanding discussion”, covering the entire expanse of ties between the two strategic partners.
The overall focus of the talks was on further broadbasing bilateral ties in a range of areas like healthcare, trade and defence.
Modi said India was committed to expand its relations with Australia on a wider and faster pace, noting that it is important not only for the two countries, but also for the Indo-Pacific region and the world.
Relationship between the two nations was upgraded to a ‘Strategic Partnership’ level in 2009. Since then, both countries have expanded their cooperation in a range of key areas.
In its White Paper on Foreign Policy in 2017, Australia recognised India as the “pre-eminent maritime power among Indian Ocean countries” and a “front-rank partner of Australia”.
The bilateral economic engagement too has been on an upswing in the last few years.
In the last few years, both countries have been focusing on expanding maritime cooperation.