At the 2+2 ministerial dialogue, Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles asserts there has ‘never been a more important time for the 2 countries to be working together’
New Delhi: Australian deputy prime minister and defence minister Richard Marles Monday termed China as the biggest trade partner for India and Australia and also the biggest security anxiety for both countries.
He was speaking at the India-Australia 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue in New Delhi, which was attended by defence minister Rajnath Singh, foreign minister S. Jaishankar and his Australian counterpart Penny Wong.
“We are two countries which share history. We share democratic traditions. We share rule of law and freedom of speech. We share this in a world where our strategic alignment is greater than it has ever been. For both of us, China is our biggest trade partner, for both of us China is our biggest security anxiety,” Marles said.
He pointed out that India and Australia shared an ocean and, in that sense, were neighbours and that there had never been a more important time for the two countries to be working together.
Marles also said that, from the Australian perspective, it couldn’t overstate the importance of its relationship with India.
“We really look forward to talking more about that strategic landscape in our meeting today. We look forward to talking more about ways in which we can cooperate around maritime domain awareness and more about the ways in which we can cooperate with our diplomacy, particularly in the region that surrounds us,” he asserted, adding that 2023 had been a big year in terms of defence as it was for the first time that an Indian naval submarine had visited Australia.
Jaishankar, too, highlighted the importance of the India-Australia relationship and said that defence was an important pillar of the partnership.
“Our bilateral relationship has certainly grown rapidly but it has larger implications for the region and a lot of other countries look to us and to our relationship in many ways as a factor of stability and security,” he said, adding that this had happened at a time of increasing uncertainty in the world.
“We are seeing sharper polarisation, deeper stresses and today… it is important to ensure that the routine is there for the region to feel safer. So, we have to build and act for stability on a daily basis,” Jaishankar stressed.
He further pointed out that India and Australia did face exceptional challenges, “some regional, some global”, and many involving challenges to the rule of law. As comprehensive strategic partners, it is important to also plan for those exceptions, he said.
“Our partnership in the Quad format (comprising Australia, India, Japan, and the US) has been very beneficial for the Indo-Pacific region and indeed our own bilateral relationship,” he added.
India’s dialogue with Australia comes in the wake of the India-US 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue, which was held earlier this month.
Deeper Defence Ties
India and Australia have continually expressed their commitment towards promoting peace, security, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.
Ahead of the India-Australia 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue, defence minister Singh held bilateral talks with Marles and underscored the importance of enhancing cooperation in information exchange and maritime domain awareness between the two countries.
The two ministers discussed cooperation for joint research in underwater technologies and are also in advanced stages of discussion to conclude implementing arrangements on hydrography cooperation, and cooperation for air-to-air refuelling, according to communication from the defence ministry.
Singh told his Australian counterpart that the forces of the two countries should also look at cooperating in niche training areas like artificial intelligence (AI), anti-submarine and anti-drone warfare and cyber domain. The two further agreed to deepen cooperation in defence industry and research.
Singh pointed out that shipbuilding, ship repair and maintenance and aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul could be other potential areas of collaboration. They also discussed collaboration between the defence start-ups of India and Australia.
After the conclusion of talks with Australia Monday, Singh posted on X: “Attended a comprehensive India-Australia 2+2 Ministerial Meeting. There is a consensus on both the sides that a strong partnership augurs well for overall peace, security and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region. India looks forward to continue working with Australia to take our bilateral relationship onwards and upwards.”