India and Australia on Saturday decided to expand military engagements across services and facilitate greater sharing of critical information in line with their resolve to significantly expand strategic ties.
At their inaugural "two-plus-two" foreign and defence ministerial dialogue, the two countries discussed various institutional frameworks for wide-ranging collaboration including to boost defence cooperation.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held the in-person talks with their Australian counterparts Marise Payne and Peter Dutton.
Mr Singh said Australia was invited to engage India's growing defence industry and to collaborate in the co-production and co-development of military equipment.
"The 2+2 dialogue signifies the importance of the India-Australia comprehensive strategic partnership. India and Australia share an important partnership which is based on a shared vision of free, open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific region," Mr Singh said at a press conference with the ministers.
He said two leading democracies India and Australia have a common interest in the peace and prosperity of the entire region.
"We have discussed various institutional frameworks for wide-ranging collaboration including defence cooperation and fight against the global pandemic. We exchanged views on Afghanistan, maritime security in the Indo-Pacific, cooperation in multilateral formats and other related topics," Mr Singh said.
"During the discussions, both sides emphasised the need to ensure free flow of trade, adherence to international rules and norms and sustainable economic growth in the entire region," he said.
Referring to bilateral defence ties, Mr Singh said it was decided to expand military engagements across services.
"On the bilateral defence cooperation we decided to expand military engagements across services, facilitate greater defence information sharing and to work closely for mutual logistic support," he said.
"In the context of defence cooperation, both sides were glad to note continued participation of Australia in the Malabar exercises. We invited Australia to engage India's growing defence industry and to collaborate in co-production and co-development of defence equipment," he said.
The defence minister said both sides agreed to continue the high-level engagements to build a strong and robust partnership.
In his comments, Dutton described the talks as "incredibly productive".
"Australia and India's defence relationship is at a historic high. India is a rising Indo-Pacific great power and an increasingly significant partner for Australia, particularly in the maritime domain," the Australian defence minister said.
"We both depend on free and open access to sea lanes in the Indo-Pacific for our trade and economic well-being and we share an unwavering commitment to upholding the rules-based international order and ensuring that Indo-Pacific is open inclusive and prosperous," he said.
The dialogue between the foreign and defence ministers was instituted as part of an overall goal to expand strategic cooperation between the two countries.
India has such a framework for talks with a very few countries including the US and Japan.
The defence and military cooperation between India and Australia is on an upswing in the last few years.
In June last year, India and Australia elevated their ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership and signed a landmark deal for reciprocal access to military bases for logistics support during an online summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison.
The Australian Navy was part of the recent Malabar naval exercise that also featured navies of India, the US and Japan.
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