WASHINGTON: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday met his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison here ahead of the first in-person Quad meeting to be hosted by US President Joe Biden and discussed a broad range of issues of bilateral, regional and global importance, including the Indo-Pacific.
The meeting between Modi and Morrison came a week after they spoke over phone and reviewed the rapid progress in the India-Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, including through the recent 'two-plus-two' dialogue, and exchanged views on regional developments and the forthcoming Quad meeting.
This was the first in-person meeting between the two leaders in the post-pandemic period.
The last bilateral meeting was the Leaders' Virtual Summit held on June 4 last year when the Strategic Partnership between India and Australia was elevated to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement.
During the meeting here, Modi and Morrison discussed a broad range of issues of bilateral, regional and global importance, it said.
The Prime Ministers "resolved to continue close cooperation for mutual well-being and towards advancing their shared objective of an open, free, prosperous and rules-based Indo-Pacific region," the MEA said.
India, the US and several other world powers have been talking about the need to ensure a free, open and thriving Indo-Pacific in the backdrop of China's rising military manoeuvring in the region.
China claims nearly all of the disputed South China Sea, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts of it.
Beijing has built artificial islands and military installations in the South China Sea.
According to the MEA statement, in their meeting, Modi and Morrison reviewed the ongoing negotiations on a bilateral Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) and welcomed the visit to India by former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott as Morrison's Special Trade Envoy for India, and noted the commitment of both sides to achieve an early harvest announcement on an interim agreement by December 2021.
They underlined the need for the international community to address the issue of climate change on an urgent basis as Prime Minister Modi highlighted the need for a broader dialogue on environment protection, it said, adding that both the leaders also discussed possibilities of providing clean technologies.
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Modi and Morrison agreed that "as two vibrant democracies in the region, the two countries needed to work closer together to overcome the challenges in the post-pandemic world, inter alia to enhance supply chain resilience," the MEA said.
"Both leaders lauded the immense contribution of the Indian diaspora to Australia's economy and society, and discussed ways to enhance people to people ties," the statement added.
Prime Minister Modi also invited Morrison to visit India.
Earlier, Office of Prime Minister Modi said on Twitter: "Advancing friendship with Australia. PM @ScottMorrisonMP held talks with PM @narendramodi. They discussed a wide range of subjects aimed at deepening economic and people-to-people linkages between India and Australia."
Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi termed the meeting as "another chapter in our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with Australia".
"Another chapter in our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with Australia! PM @narendramodi and @ScottMorrisonMP met today. Discussed regional & global developments as well as ongoing bilateral cooperation in areas related to Covid-19, trade, defence, clean energy & more," Bagchi said on Twitter.
The meeting assumes significance as External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on September 11 held the 'two-plus-two' talks in New Delhi with their Australian counterparts Marise Payne and Peter Dutton.
It was the first meeting between the prime ministers of India and Australia since the AUKUS (Australia, the UK and the US) security partnership was unveiled last week by US President Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Morrison.
The AUKUS partnership, seen as an effort to counter China in the Indo-Pacific, will allow the US and the UK to provide Australia with the technology to develop nuclear-powered submarines for the first time.
Australia said its decision to join a security alliance with the US and the UK is aimed at developing capabilities that can contribute along with India and other countries in deterring behaviour that threatens the peace and security in the Indo-Pacific.
In the first reaction from India on the contentious alliance, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Tuesday said that the new security agreement among the US, the UK and Australia is neither relevant to the Quad nor will have any impact on its functioning, and they are not groupings of a similar nature.
Shringla said while the AUKUS is a security alliance among the three countries, the Quad is a plurilateral grouping with a vision for a free, open, transparent and inclusive Indo-Pacific.
The Quad comprises India, the US, Japan and Australia.
US President Biden is hosting the first in-person Quad summit at the White House on September 24 to be attended by Modi, Morrison and Japan Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
Developments in Afghanistan, the COVID-19 pandemic and ways to expand cooperation for a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific are set to be the central focus of the four-nation grouping Quad.
France reacted angrily to the formation of the new AUKUS alliance as it resulted in Paris effectively losing a multi-billion dollar deal to build 12 conventional submarines for Australia.
France is also upset over its exclusion from the alliance.
China has also slammed the formation of the AUKUS.
Modi also met his Japanese counterpart Yoshihide Suga met here on Thursday to discuss ways to further cement the bilateral strategic ties ahead of the first in-person Quad meeting to be hosted by US President Joe Biden.
Modi and Suga spoke in April this year and the two leaders underscored the importance of working together to create resilient, diversified and trustworthy supply chains, ensuring reliable supply of critical materials and technologies, and developing new partnerships in manufacturing and skill development to deal with the crisis.
On his phone call with Modi in April, the Japanese leader had tweeted "we confirmed that we will work in close collaboration to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and had fruitful discussions on regional issues and Japan-India cooperation in order to realise a Free and Open Indo-Pacific."
They also highlighted the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail (MAHSR) project as a shining example of their cooperation and welcomed the steady progress in its execution.
Suga had called off a scheduled visit to India in April end in view of the coronavirus situation.
Speaking after virtually inaugurating a Japanese Zen garden and Kaizen Academy set up at the premises of the Ahmedabad Management Association (AMA) in June, Modi had described Suga as a very straight-forward person.
"Prime Minister Suga and I believe that during the time of this COVID-19 pandemic crisis, the Indo-Japanese friendship and our partnership have become even more relevant for global stability and prosperity. Today, when we are facing several global challenges, it is the need of the hour that our friendship and relationship get stronger day by day," Modi had said.
He said efforts like setting up of the Kaizen Academy are a beautiful reflection of this relationship.
Modi said the launch of the Zen garden and Kaizen Academy is a "symbol of the spontaneity and modernity of India-Japan relations".