NEW DELHI: India and Australia on Saturday reinforced their bilateral ties and relations within the Quad grouping with their first “2+2″ defence and foreign ministerial dialogue.

Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar and cabinet colleague defence minister Rajnath Singh joined Australian foreign minister Marise Payne and defence minister Peter Dutton in New Delhi for the inaugural “2+2″ dialogue.

The talks are an outcome of the India-Australia ties being elevated to the level of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership at a virtual summit between the prime ministers of India and Australia in June last year.

According to Jaishankar, “India-Australia relations have experienced unprecedented momentum in the last seven years. There have been frequent engagements despite the pandemic in a range of areas. New mechanisms have come up reflecting new energies.”

“The 2+2 dialogue reflects the comfort that we have attained in our bilateral relationship, especially in strategic and security spheres, based on the growing convergence with Australia on security issues and our shared commitment for a free, open, prosperous and rules-based Indo-Pacific region,” Jaishankar said.

Australian foreign minister Marise Payne, in her remarks, said the “strong engagement” between the two sides spoke of the “powerful momentum in ties.”

A person familiar with the talks said that the conversations including a bilateral meeting between Jaishankar and Payne, prior to the “2+2″ meeting on Saturday, were “good” with convergence on many issues.

The cementing of India-Australia ties also comes against the backdrop of the aggressive rise of China and its coercive actions vis a vis its neighbours.

Payne said the “2+2″ meet had discussed the situation in the East China Sea and the South China Sea – ie China’s tensions with Japan and its Southeast Asian neighbours over maritime boundary disputes. On its part, Australia is embroiled in trade tensions with China with the latter imposing high tariffs on Australian products in retaliation to Canberra backing a US call for an investigation into the origins of covid-19 that first surfaced in China in late 2019. India too has tense ties with China after New Delhi noticed incursions into its territory by Chinese troops in May 2020.

“India and Australia share a positive vision of a free open secure and inclusive Indo-Pacific. As maritime powers and outward looking democracies in the Indo-Pacific our cooperation is essential,” she said. The Indo-Pacific is seen as a large geo-strategic space comprising the land and seas between the eastern shores of Africa to the west coast of the US. On Friday, at a speech in New Delhi, Payne had described India and Australia as the “northern and eastern anchors” of the Indian Ocean, home to major global maritime thoroughfares.

China has been wary of the Quad – a grouping that brings together US, Japan, India and Australia – and views it as a means of circumscribing its rise in the world. Coincidentally, the India-Australia “2+2″ comes ahead of a possible meeting of the leaders of the four Quad countries in Washington later this month. The summit is expected to take place on 24 September. India and the US are also expected to hold their “2+2″ dialogue in November.

In his comments, Singh said that during the 2+2 discussions “both sides emphasised the need to ensure free flow of trade, adherence to international rules and norms and sustainable economic growth in the entire region.”

“On the bilateral defence cooperation we decided to expand military engagements across services, facilitate greater defence information sharing and to work closely for mutual logistic support,” Singh said.

On his part, Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton spoke of further strengthening defence ties between the two countries. With Australia taking part in the Malabar naval exercises along with India, US and Japan and Australia inviting Indian forces to participate in the next edition of its military wargame code named Talisman Sabre in 2023, ties are on the upswing. The two countries, he said, would also reinforce each other’s maritime domain awareness.

Describing India as a “rising Indo-Pacific great power and increasingly significant security partner for Australia, particularly in the maritime domain,” Dutton said that Australia would be increasing its defence diplomatic representation in New Delhi.

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