India, Australia hold first 2+2 talks; focus on strategic ties, situation in Afghanistan

By Livemint
Union defence minister Rajnath Singh and external affairs minister S Jaishankar with their respective counterparts Peter Dutton and Marise Payne (PTI)

India and Australia on Saturday began a high-level foreign and defence ministerial dialogue to boost the overall strategic cooperation between the nations. 

External affairs minister S Jaishankar and Union defence minister Rajnath Singh held the ‘two-plus-two’ talks with their Australian counterparts Marise Payne and Peter Dutton.

Describing the endeavour as “productive", Jaishankar wrote on Twitter: “A productive 2+2 meeting today with Australia."

“As democratic polities, market economies and pluralistic societies we have a natural bonding that has assumed contemporary relevance in a changing world," the minister later said in a joint statement. 

“It was during the first India-Australia virtual leaders' summit on 4 June 2020 that our PMs agreed to elevate our relations to a comprehensive, strategic partnership. This '2+2' format is a direct outcome of that summit & is pursuant to the comprehensive, strategic partnership," he added. 

The talks come in the backdrop of an unsettling phase of geopolitical flux in the region when the global focus is on the situation in Afghanistan after its takeover by the Taliban last month.

The issue also came up in discussions on Saturday and the two sides discussed the security situation in Afghanistan. 

In their talks, Singh and Dutton focussed on their "common concerns" relating possible spread of terrorism from the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

Later, Jaishankar said: “We agreed that international community must be united in its approach, guided by UN Security Council Resolution 2593."

The two sides also held extensive talks on the situation in the Indo-Pacific in the face of China's growing muscle-flexing in the region, people familiar with the development said.

Efforts for cooperation 

The foreign and defence ministerial talks took place amid renewed efforts by the Quad member countries to expand cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.

Besides India and Australia, the Quad comprises the US and Japan.

In an address at an event organised by the Observer Research Organisation, Payne on Friday said the Quad has evolved "swiftly" and very "effectively" and commended India for taking a strong leadership role in the region.

Talking about "significant challenges" facing the Indo-Pacific, the Australian foreign minister said Canberra seeks a region where rights of large and small countries are respected and that no "single dominant power" dictates the outcome for others.

The dialogue between the foreign and defence ministers was instituted as part of an overall goal to expand strategic cooperation between the two countries.

India has such a framework for talks with a very few countries including the US and Japan.

The defence and military cooperation between India and Australia is on an upswing in the last few years.

In June last year, India and Australia elevated their ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership and signed a landmark deal for reciprocal access to military bases for logistics support during an online summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison.

The Australian Navy was part of the recent Malabar naval exercise that also featured navies of India, the US and Japan.

With inputs from agencies. 


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