New Delhi: At their first ever virtual summit, India and Australia signed an important deal for reciprocal access to each other’s military bases for logistical support. The countries upgraded their relations to a ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison was supposed to have visited India earlier this year, but his visit was postponed due to devastating wild fires in the country. Then, the coronavirus pandemic led to countries shutting down borders, which made any physical meeting between the leaders unfeasible for the next couple of months.
The virtual summit began with the two prime ministers reading out their statements. This was telecast live. Morrison said he had cooked samosas last weekend something he had also tweeted on and said he hoped to have Gujarati khichdi when he finally visits India in person.
After the opening remarks, the meeting went off camera and the delegations began their discussions.
At the conclusion, the two sides announced that seven agreements had been signed, including the long-awaited Mutual Logistics Support Agreement. Unlike in an usual summit where there is a ceremony for signing agreements, these documents had been signed, scanned and exchanged through correspondence.
The two countries also released a declaration on “‘Shared Vision for Maritime Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific” that advocated for a “rules-based maritime order that is based on respect for sovereignty and international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law”.
The two leaders sat for their virtual meeting when both their respective countries are in a testy patch with China. China has been railing against Australia for the latter having pushed for an international investigation into the source and initial handling of the coronavirus pandemic, while Indian and Chinese soldiers are engaged in a stand-off in multiple points in eastern Ladakh.
However, while China’s shadow loomed over the summit, current troubles were not discussed by the two leaders.
“There was no discussion on China in the virtual summit between India and Australia,” said MEA secretary (east) Vijay Thakur Singh during an online media briefing on Thursday evening.