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NEW DELHI : India and Australia said they would deepen their cooperation in areas ranging from defence and trade to vaccine development and resilient supply chains in a bid to advance their “shared objective of an open, free and rules-based Indo-Pacific region. 

A joint statement released over the weekend after the first ever “2+2" talks between the foreign and defence ministers of two countries – External affairs minister S Jaishankar and Union defence minister Rajnath Singh of India and foreign minister Marise Payne and defence minister Peter Dutton of Australia -- also expressed “deep concern" about the situation in Afghanistan. The two Australian ministers arrived in New Delhi on Friday. Besides meeting in the “2+2" format, the two visiting ministers also had separate bilateral talks with their counterparts. Payne and Dutton also called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday.   

The dialogue is seen as an outcome of the two countries elevating ties to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) in June 2020 after a virtual summit between the prime ministers of the two countries.  

India now has “2+2" dialogues with all its Quad partners --- the US, Japan and Australia. A similar dialogue is expected to launched with Russia as well. 

“To further realize the full potential of the India-Australia CSP, the Ministers underscored the intention to expand cooperation under the 2+2 framework and to meet at least once in every two years to maintain the momentum," the statement said adding that the next discussions would take place in 2023.  

“Keeping in view the growing maritime challenges, the ministers agreed to continue boosting cooperation in the maritime domain," the statement said.  

“The ministers reiterated their commitment to maintaining a free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific region to support the freedom of navigation, over-flight and peaceful and unimpeded commerce by adherence of all nations to international law including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and peaceful resolution of disputes. They also emphasized that the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea should be fully consistent with international law, particularly UNCLOS, not prejudice the legitimate rights and interests of any nation in accordance with international law and reinforce existing inclusive regional architecture," the statement said in what can be seen as comments coming in the backdrop of China’s intimidating approach while dealing with its neighbours and partners. China has fractious ties with neighbours in Southeast Asia due to its claims on waters of the South China Sea. Australia is embroiled in trade tensions with China with the latter imposing high tariffs on Australian products in retaliation to Canberra backing a US call for an investigation into the origins of covid-19 that first surfaced in China in late 2019. India too has tense ties with China after New Delhi noticed incursions into its territory by Chinese troops in May 2020.  

Beijing is also suspicious of the Quad which its views as an attempt by India, US, Japan and Australia to circumscribe its influence and power in the region.   

According to the joint statement, the India and Australia “reaffirmed their commitment to quadrilateral cooperation between Australia, India, Japan and the United States." 

“The Quad has a shared vision for an Indo-Pacific region that is free, open, prosperous and inclusive, and based on respect for international law… They appreciated the positive agenda aimed at promoting practical cooperation in COVID-19 vaccines, maritime security, climate change, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, connectivity and infrastructure, counter-terrorism, and critical and emerging technologies," the statement said. 

The two countries also underlined the importance of their defence relationship and discussed ways to broaden the scope of engagements. They “expressed desire to do more across the maritime domain and maximize resources to ensure free and open critical maritime corridors in the Indo-Pacific," the statement said. The two countries “also agreed to explore areas of cooperation in the area of defence industries including Unmanned Vehicles and other niche technologies," it said.  

On Afghanistan, the four ministers called “for the Taliban to guarantee safe passage for foreign nationals and Afghans wanting to leave the country," the statement said.  

“They reiterated calls on those in positions of power and authority across Afghanistan to adhere to counterterrorism commitments and human rights….The ministers agreed that a broad-based and inclusive government is necessary for long term peace and stability in Afghanistan. Ministers also agreed to remain alert to the broader repercussions of the developments in Afghanistan for the ongoing terrorist threats around the world, and in our region," the joint statement added. 

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