India and Australia today held the inaugural foreign and defence ministerial dialogue to boost overall strategic ties against the backdrop of an unsettling phase of geopolitical flux in the region.
External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held the ''two-plus-two'' talks here with their Australian counterparts Marise Payne and Peter Dutton.
Dr Jaishankar described the in-person talks as "productive". "A productive 2+2 meeting today with Australia," he tweeted.
A productive 2+2 meeting today with Australia. pic.twitter.com/wVorRj4rks— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) September 11, 2021
The talks took place at a time the global focus is on the situation in Afghanistan after its takeover by the Taliban, and the issue figured in the deliberations.
"We are meeting at a very crucial time when, along with a pandemic we have a geo-political environment which is in rapid flux and we must, bilaterally and with other like-minded partners, respond adequately to safeguard our national interests as well as ensure a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region," Dr Jaishankar said in his opening remarks at the dialogue.
The External Affairs Minister said India has the "two-plus-two'' format of talks with very few countries.
"I also believe that developments in Afghanistan will be an important subject of discussion between us today," Dr Jaishankar said.
"This meeting, of course, gives us an opportunity to review and take forward the comprehensive strategic partnership as we prepare for another meeting between our prime ministers later this month in the United States," he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to travel to the US later this month to attend a summit of Quad leaders.
People familiar with the ''two-plus-two'' talks said the two sides held extensive deliberations on all key issues of strategic interests, including the situation in the Indo-Pacific in the face of China's growing muscle-flexing in the region.
The overall focus was to ramp up the strategic ties, they said.
The outcome of the talks will be shared by the four ministers at a press conference by the four ministers.
While Mr Singh had wide-ranging discussions with Australian defence minister Dutton yesterday, Dr Jaishankar met foreign minister Payne in the morning ahead of the ''two-plus-two'' dialogue.
During their talks, the two defence ministers discussed the fragile security situation in Afghanistan and their "common concerns" relating possible spread of terrorism from the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
The foreign and defence ministerial talks took place amid renewed efforts by the Quad member countries to expand cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. Besides India and Australia, the Quad comprises the US and Japan.
At an event organised by the Observer Research Organisation, Ms Payne yesterday said the Quad has evolved "swiftly" and very "effectively" and commended India for taking a strong leadership role in the region.
Talking about "significant challenges" facing the Indo-Pacific, the Australian foreign minister said Canberra seeks a region where rights of large and small countries are respected and that no "single dominant power" dictates the outcome for others.
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 very few countries, including the US and Japan.