Australian Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Defence met with their Indian counterparts on Saturday September 11 for the first ‘2+2’ talks between the two countries. The overwhelming focus was on strengthening strategic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, but the talks also covered COVID-19 cooperation, climate commitments, and reinforcing trade agreements.
Saturday’s talks come after bilateral relations between India and Australia were elevated to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in June of last year. At the same June summit, Prime Ministers Scott Morrison and Narendra Modi upgraded the 2+2 talks from the level of department secretaries to ministers, reflecting growing commitment to strengthening their relationship.
The topic of Afghanistan featured prominently in discussions. In their joint statement, both countries called for a “broad-based and inclusive” government, and urged all nations to take “immediate, sustained, verifiable and irreversible” action to ensure Afghanistan does not become a ‘haven’ for terrorism.
In line with this, the statement underlined a commitment to UN Security Council Resolution 2593, which demands Afghan territory should not be used to attack or threaten any other country. Significantly, days after Resolution 2593 was passed, a Taliban spokesperson said they could raise questions concerning “Kashmir, India or any other country”, lending weight to Australia’s commitment to supporting India’s security.
The 2+2 talks also renewed Indian and Australian commitment to naval cooperation, whereby Australian Minister for Defence, Peter Dutton, invited India to participate in the 2023 Exercise Talisman Sabre. He also announced Canberra would increase its defence diplomatic presence in New Delhi.
His counterpart, Minister Rajnath Singh, invited Australia “to collaborate in co-production and co-development of defence equipment”. India has also asked Australia to join the annual Malabar naval exercises. Naval ties between the two countries have been stronger than ever under Prime Minister Modi.
The background and outcomes of the 2+2 talks indicate a growing alliance between Australia and India in counterpoint to China’s encroachment on the South China Sea. Tellingly, yesterday’s joint statement included a statement of “shared objective of an open, free, prosperous and rules-based” Indo-Pacific. Both Australia and India are also part of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, alongside the USA and Japan, widely viewed as a response to the threat of Chinese power in the Pacific.
The day before the 2+2 talks, Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne commended the ‘swift’ and ‘effective’ evolution of the Quad, and praised India for its strong leadership role in the Indo-Pacific. Her counterpart Minister S. Jaishankar described the 2+2 talks as “productive”.
As the power dynamics in the Pacific region continue to evolve, both countries look forward to the next 2+2 talks in 2023.
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