In their first virtual summit held in the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, India and Australia today elevated their bilateral ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership (CSP) and signed seven key accords, including a mutual logistics support agreement that is expected to enable the two countries to access each other’s military bases amid growing Chinese assertiveness on territorial issues.
The summit also saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison condemning terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and asserting that there could be no justification for acts of terror on any grounds whatsoever. The two leaders reiterated their commitment to promoting peace, security, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region, which was vital for the world.
Briefing reporters, Vijay Thakur Singh, Secretary (East) in the External Affairs Ministry, said the talks between the two leaders went off very well. In response to a question, she said there was no discussion on China during the talks.
A joint declaration issued at the conclusion of the summit said, ‘’As two key Indo-Pacific countries, India and Australia have an enduring interest in a free, open, inclusive and rules based Indo-Pacific region. They have a shared interest in ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight in the Indo-Pacific region, and maintaining open, safe and efficient sea lanes for transportation and communication.’’
Morrison was scheduled to visit India early this year but had to postpone the trip following bushfires in his country. The visit could not take place in May too in view the pandemic, forcing the two sides to hold a virtual summit.
In his remarks while opening the summit, Modi said the time was ripe and perfect to further strengthen cooperation between the two countries. ‘’There are endless opportunities to strengthen our friendship, it also brings with it challenges to turn this potential into reality, how our relationship becomes a factor of stability for the region,’’ he said.
Morrison, in his remarks, said, “It doesn’t surprise me, this is how (virtually) we’d continue to meet in these circumstances. You (Modi) are the one who started hologram in your campaigning many years ago (ahead of 2014 Lok Sabha elections), maybe next time we can have a hologram of you here.”
He commended India for taking over the chairmanship of the WHO executive board. This was a very important time to be chairing that board and he had no doubt that India’s leadership would be critical in dealing with difficult problems globally, particularly in the health area.
Sharing some light moments with Modi, Morrison promised the Indian leader that he would prepare Gujarat ‘Khichdi’ in his kitchen before their next meeting in person.