Several agreements reached through virtual summit . . .
Last week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison held a virtual summit and upgraded their bilateral relationship to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. The summit was initially scheduled to happen in India in January but was delayed due to severe bushfires in Australia and the pandemic. In their meeting, the two sides inked several key agreements on expanding bilateral trade, science and technological collaboration, and cultural exchanges. Their priority, however, was security and defence co-operation. They agreed to hold a regular ‘Two-Plus-Two’ meeting of foreign and defence ministers to discuss their strategic and security partnership. They also concluded the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement, which will provide reciprocal access to military bases and ports.
Other regional dialogues delayed . . .
The Canberra-New Delhi summit is an illustration of how some bilateral and multilateral security dialogues are proceeding amid the COVID-19 pandemic, while others have not gone ahead as planned. For example, Asia’s marquee annual defence summit, the Shangri-La Dialogue, was cancelled for the first time since 2002. The Dialogue usually brings together senior defence and military officials from more than 40 countries around the world. Similarly, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit was postponed along with the BRICS summit – both scheduled to take place in Russia on July 21-23. ASEAN members are also considering rescheduling some major security dialogues.
India and Australia’s strategic manoeuvring . . .
Despite restrictions on travel and face-to-face meetings, Australia and India were incentivized to proceed with their summit; they share growing concerns about Chinese military and naval expansion in the Indo-Pacific region and are looking to actively expand security and maritime co-operation with the U.S. and Japan within the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. Also, Canberra and New Delhi have developed bilateral security exchange mechanisms, including maritime exercises, a special forces exercise, and cybersecurity and counter-terrorism exchanges. The newly-signed reciprocal logistical support agreement, as well as defence science technological collaboration, could increase the inter-operability of the two militaries.