NEW DELHI: India and Australia strengthened their bilateral ties and relations within the Quad grouping on Saturday with their first “2 + 2” ministerial dialogue on defense and foreign affairs.

Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and his colleague Defense Minister Rajnath Singh joined Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defense Minister Peter Dutton in New Delhi for the inaugural “2 + 2” dialogue.

The talks are the result of elevating relations between India and Australia to the level of comprehensive strategic partnership at a virtual summit between the Indian and Australian prime ministers in June last year.

According to Jaishankar, “India-Australia relations have seen unprecedented momentum over the past seven years. Despite the pandemic, commitments have been frequent in various areas. New mechanisms have appeared reflecting new energies. “

“The 2 + 2 dialogue reflects the comfort we have achieved in our bilateral relations, particularly in the strategic and security areas, based on the growing convergence with Australia on security issues and our common commitment to a free society,” open, successful and rules-based. Indo-Pacific region, ”Jaishankar said.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in her remarks that the “strong commitment” between the two sides was a testament to the “powerful momentum in relations”.

A person familiar with the talks said conversations, including a bilateral meeting between Jaishankar and Payne, ahead of Saturday’s “2 + 2” meeting, were “good” with convergence on many issues.

The cementing of Indo-Australian ties also comes against the backdrop of an aggressive rise by China and its coercive actions vis-à-vis its neighbors.

Payne said the “2 + 2” meeting discussed the situation in the East China Sea and the South China Sea, that is, China’s tensions with Japan and its Asian neighbors. Southeast concerning disputes over maritime borders. For its part, Australia is involved in trade tensions with China, the latter imposing high tariffs on Australian products in retaliation on Canberra, supporting a US call for an investigation into the origins of covid-19 which has first surfaced in China in late 2019. India also has strained 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. During a speech in New Delhi on Friday, Payne described India and Australia as the “northern and eastern anchors” of the Indian Ocean, which are home to the world’s major shipping arteries.

China has been wary of the Quad – a grouping that brings together the United States, Japan, India and Australia – and sees it as a way to limit its rise in the world. Coincidentally, the India-Australia “2 + 2” precedes a possible meeting of leaders of the four Quad countries in Washington later this month. The summit is scheduled to take place on September 24. India and the United States are also expected to hold their “2 + 2” dialogue in November.

In his comments, Singh said that during the 2 + 2 talks, “both sides stressed the need to ensure free flow of trade, respect for international rules and standards, and sustainable economic growth throughout the region. “.

“On bilateral defense cooperation, we have decided to extend military commitments to all services, to facilitate greater sharing of defense information and to work closely together for mutual logistical support,” said Singh said.

For his part, Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton spoke of strengthening defense ties between the two countries. With Australia taking part in the Malabar naval exercises with India, the United States, Japan and Australia inviting Indian forces to participate in the next edition of its military war game code named Talisman Saber in 2023 , the links are on the rise. The two countries, he said, would also strengthen their mutual knowledge of the maritime domain.

Describing India as a “great rising Indo-Pacific power and an increasingly important security partner for Australia, particularly in the maritime domain,” Dutton said Australia would increase its diplomatic representation in defense at New Delhi.

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