New Delhi: India and Australia on Tuesday held their first ever dialogue involving defence and foreign secretaries, to discuss ways to ensure a “free" and “open" Indo-Pacific region, an Indian government statement said.
The India-Australia “2+2" dialogue comes almost exactly a month after officials of the two countries joined their counterparts from Japan and the US for talks also focussed on the Indo-Pacific region against the backdrop of a rising China.
It also comes a day after the Russia-India-China (RIC) meeting in New Delhi to boost collaboration in the Asia-Pacific region, where the three countries agreed to broaden their consultations.
India has a “2+2" dialogue with very few countries—Japan and South Korea being two examples. New Delhi and Washington are slated to hold a “2+2" dialogue between their ministers of foreign affairs and defence and secretaries of state and defence early next year.
According to an Indian foreign ministry statement, foreign secretary S. Jaishankar and defence secretary Sanjay Mitra sat down with their Australian counterparts, secretary of the department of foreign affairs and trade Frances Adamson and secretary of the department of defence Greg Moriarty.
“All aspects of bilateral relations with a focus on strategic and defence relations between the two countries were reviewed," the statement said.
“India and Australia share warm bilateral relations based on shared democratic values and pluralism. There is a growing convergence of strategic perspectives between the two countries," it said.
“Both sides agreed that a free, open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region serves the long-term interests of all countries in the region and of the world at large," it added.
India and Australia were two members of the four-nation “quad" of major democracies in the Indo-Pacific region —also regarded as the possible nucleus of a probable new security architecture in Asia—that met in Manila last month on the margins of the East Asia Summit. The four countries are expected to come together for naval drills in the near future.
India conducts the Malabar naval exercises with the US and last year it was expanded to include Japan. Australia—which was part of the Malabar exercises in 2007—could rejoin the drill next year.
The exchanges come as the geostrategic term “Indo-Pacific" as opposed to “Asia-Pacific" has been gaining currency, thanks to increased use by US administration officials to refer to a large swathe of sea and land stretching from the US Pacific coast to Australia and beyond to India.
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson made several references to the “Indo-Pacific region" in a speech at a think tank in Washington in October.
And days later, Japanese foreign minister Taro Kono said that Tokyo favoured a dialogue between Japan, the US, India and Australia to boost strategic partnership among these countries. More recently, US President Donald Trump referred to the term several times when he spoke to a group of business representatives from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) grouping in Da Nang in Vietnam.
China has been warily eyeing the “quadrilateral exchanges" while stating its hope that the group and its actions were not directed against Beijing.