India and Australia on Thursday elevated their ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership and upgraded their 2+2 foreign affairs and defence dialogue to the ministerial level during a virtual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his counterpart Scott Morrison.
The two sides also unveiled a “shared vision for maritime cooperation in the Indo- Pacific” and signed seven agreements focused on crucial areas such as defence and rare earth minerals.
The Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) will facilitate reciprocal access to military logistics facilities, allow more complex joint military exercise and improve interoperability between the armed forces of the two sides.
“India is committed to expanding its relations with Australia at a wider and faster pace. This is important not only for our two countries, but also for the Indo-Pacific region and the world,” Modi said in his opening televised remarks in Hindi.
Morrision said the comprehensive strategic partnership forged by the two sides will take them “to a whole new level of relationship” and it will “continue to build the trust because we want commercial and trading relationships that are built on trust”.
Referring to the joint declaration on a shared vision for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, he added, “We share an ocean and we share responsibilities for that ocean as well – its health, well-being [and] security and the relationship we’re forming around those issues in our maritime domain is the platform for so many other things between our countries.”
Among the other important agreements signed by the two sides during the virtual bilateral summit – the first such meeting for Modi – were a framework arrangement on cyber and cyber-enabled critical technology cooperation, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on cooperation in mining and processing of critical and strategic minerals, an implementing arrangement on cooperation in defence science and technology to the existing MoU on defence cooperation.
Even before the Covid-19 crisis, the two sides had been exploring the possibility of cooperation in the mining and processing of rare earth metals such as lithium, neodymium and dysprosium, of which Australia has the world’s sixth largest reserves.
India, which imports more than 90% of the rare earth metals it needs from China, has been looking to diversify sources. In 2016, the imports from China were worth $3.4 million.
The two sides also signed three MoUs on cooperation in public administration and governance reforms, cooperation in vocational education and training and water resources management.
The virtual summit was arranged after Morrison was forced to put off a planned visit to India twice – first in January because of the devastating bushfires in Australia and then in May because of the Covid-19 crisis.
Modi reiterated his invitation to Morrison to visit India when the situation normalises. Morrison, who has met Modi four times in the recent past, joked about how he had missed out on the “famous Modi hug”.
Courtesy: Hindustan Times