Sydney: Australia perceives India as a natural partner in shaping the future of the Indo-Pacific and the elevation of bilateral ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership has boosted cooperation in areas ranging from trade and critical minerals to defence, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday.
The first Quad Leaders Summit last month reflected the momentum being built by Australia, India, Japan and the US to forge a positive and inclusive agenda for the Indo-Pacific, Morrison said in his keynote address at the Raisina Dialogue, the flagship conference of the external affairs ministry.
Morrison, who has established a close working relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was effusive in his praise of India’s role in Covid-19 vaccine distribution and the Vaccine Maitri initiative that has so far supplied 65.5 million doses to 91 countries.
“Australia sees India as such a natural partner in shaping the future of our region,” he said, adding this was due to a combination of geography, values, growing economic security and people-to-people ties.
“In India, I know we have a friend who will help build our region, where all nations can prosper,” he said.
Welcoming India’s “increasingly active role” in the Indian Ocean and the wider Indo-Pacific and its leadership in manufacturing and distribution of vaccines, Morrison noted that New Delhi is building economic capability, promoting maritime security and advocating regional cooperation.
“We welcome your leadership, Prime Minister Modi, and welcome India’s leadership and engagement, whether it’s on the outstanding vaccines that are necessary and the Maitri campaign that you’ve engaged in,” he said.
The elevation of bilateral ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership last June was a “declaration of our shared values and interests, our capabilities and the deep trust we have for each other”, and this has led to new ways of cooperation in commerce, critical minerals, science, technology, defence, maritime security and critical technology issues, Morrison said.
It also led to Australia joining the navies of India, Japan and the US in the Malabar exercise last November, and this reflects the “deep trust, shared ambition and the united commitment to keeping our region safe and secure”, he added.
At the same time, Morrison said he had told the Quad Leaders Summit that other nations can rely on Australia at a time when the region faces challenges that no country can take on alone. The summit was a mark of the momentum being built among like-minded countries in the region to forge a positive and inclusive agenda for the Indo-Pacific, he added.
Without naming China, Morrison held up many issues linked to Beijing’s aggressive and assertive actions as the foremost challenges confronting the Indo-Pacific. Though full of promise, the Indo-Pacific is the “epicentre of strategic competition” and there are tensions over territorial claims and unprecedented military modernisation, he said.