New Delhi: India and Australia today signed a slew of agreements and declared their intent to work together to face the post-COVID new world order in which an aggressive China may play a dominant role.
The two nations also enhanced their strategic ties to a ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership‘ (CSP) to ensure their practical global cooperation to address challenges such as the Coronavirus and in line with the mutual engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison also pledged to deepen the bilateral relationship and this comes in the wake of global efforts to make China accountable for spreading COVID-19 worldwide and the recent spat China had with Australia over the issue.
“It (the CSP) reflects India and Australia’s strong commitment to practical global cooperation to address major challenges like COVID-19. It is in line with India’s increasing engagement in the Indo-Pacific region through her Indo-Pacific vision and Australia’s Indo-Pacific approach and its Pacific Step-Up for the South Pacific,” a Joint Statement issued by the two leaders after their virtual summit through video conferencing said.
“Both countries share the vision of an open, free, rules-based Indo-Pacific region supported by inclusive global and regional institutions that promote prosperous, stable and sovereign states on the basis of shared interests. Under the CSP, both countries decided to work together in the areas of mutual cooperation,” the statement said.
The significance of the virtual summit was that it came amidst the ongoing border tension between India and China and the attempts being made by several nations, including the United States, to hold China accountable for the spread of COVID-19 worldwide. Interestingly, Australia was among the first countries to demand a probe into the COVID-19 outbreak and faced heavy tariffs on its exports imposed by China in retaliation.
“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. I am happy that our various institutional dialogues are providing more substance to our relations,” Modi said, during his opening remarks.
The two nations had earlier signed a Joint Declaration on a Shared Vision for Maritime Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. “Both countries share a view that many of the future challenges are likely to occur in, and emanate from, the maritime domain. We agreed to boost cooperation in the maritime domain,” the two leaders said.
“Our enhanced arrangements will facilitate deeper engagement between our two countries including maritime domain awareness, and expanded linkages between our maritime agencies. Both India and Australia are committed to work together with partners and relevant regional organisations across the Indo-Pacific, including ASEAN, to enhance capacity for sustainable management of marine resources and challenge in maritime domains.”
In this regard, Australia expressed support for India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI), which will promote better coordination and cooperation among the countries in the region on maritime related issues.
Both sides agreed to continue to deepen and broaden defence cooperation by enhancing the scope and complexity of their military exercises and engagement activities to develop new ways to address shared security challenges. Both sides agreed to increase military inter-operability through defence exercises through their Arrangement concerning Mutual Logistics Support.
It was agreed that the Implementing Arrangement concerning cooperation in Defence Science and Technology to the Memorandum of Understanding on Defence Cooperation provides a framework for growing collaboration between the defence science and technology research organisations of both countries.
While talking about cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region and the security structures, the two leaders did not name China and its aggressive posturing on its territorial claims in the South China Sea, but the reference was more than conspicuous.
“Both 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.”
This paragraph was directly hinting at China’s belligerent commissions and ommisions in South China Sea, a key sub-region of economic interest in the Indo-Pacific for a lot of nations, including India, vis-a-vis other ocean-going nations.
“Both sides commit to continue to work together through various plurilateral mechanisms, including trilateral meetings with Japan, trilateral meetings with Indonesia and consultations on COVID-19 with Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Vietnam, and the United States.” These are all nations that have had troubles with Chinese bellicose behaviour in the Indo-Pacific region in the recent years, particularly post-Coronavirus outbreak.
With the United States vacating the maritime domain with the withdrawal of two of its super carriers USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Ronald Reagan from the Indo-Pacific operations due to COVID-19 outbreak on board, Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy forces have been having a free run in South China Sea.
India and Australia also welcomed the inaugural Quad ministerial meeting with Japan and the United States in September 2019, and reaffirmed their commitment to ongoing QUAD consultations. Both sides recognised the importance of the prosperity and security of the South Pacific and will exchange views on their respective approaches to the South Pacific region under Australia’s Pacific Step Up and India’s Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC), with a view to cooperate in the region.
Both sides reiterated their support for continued bilateral civil nuclear cooperation and their commitment to further strengthen global non-proliferation. Australia expressed its strong support for India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
Recognising that terrorism remains a threat to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, both sides strongly condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and stressed that there can be no justification for acts of terror on any grounds whatsoever.
Consistent with resolutions of the United Nations and the 2015 G20 Statement on the Fight against Terrorism, both sides support a comprehensive approach in combating terrorism, including by countering violent extremism, preventing radicalisation to terrorism, stemming recruitment, preventing the movement of terrorists including Foreign Terrorist Fighters, disruption of financial support to terrorists, countering incitement to commit terrorist acts and facilitating the investigation and prosecution of terrorist acts.
“Both sides reiterate our resolve to work with internet companies to strengthen transparency to prevent online terrorist activity consistent with the G20 Osaka Leaders agreement on Preventing Exploitation of the Internet for Terrorism and Violent Extremism Conducive to Terrorism.”
Both sides will also assess and address potential risks associated with virtual assets and new financial technologies that may be abused for the purpose of money laundering and terrorist financing and take steps to ensure that such virtual assets service providers are subject to Anti-Money Laundering/Countering Financing for Terrorism (AML/CFT) regulations. Both sides called for early adoption of a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT).
Understandably, a new phase of the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund will promote innovative solutions to deal with COVID-19 even as the two countries work together in the areas of digital economy, cyber security and critical and emerging technologies, according to a joint statement.
On its part, Australia assured supply of high-quality mineral resources to India and cooperation on new technologies for exploration and extraction of other minerals. The two nations also signed a Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in the field of mining and processing of Critical and Strategic minerals.
On economic issues, the two sides decided to expand trade and investment flows and pledged to re-engage on a bilateral Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA). Plus they also decided to work closely together on their approach to international economic issues through the G20 forum with India set to host the summit of the forum in 2022.
Rules-based multilateral trading system, economic growth, development, trade liberalisation and open markets in accordance with the Preamble of the Marrakesh Agreement establishing the World Trade Organisation (WTO) were also articulated by India and Australia to further economic cooperation.