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India, Australia agree to further strengthen ties to deal with 'exceptional challenges'

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NEW DELHI (PTI): India and Australia on Monday decided to further strengthen their strategic partnership to deal with "exceptional challenges" in the Indo-Pacific region and across the globe, with special focus on defence cooperation.

At the second India and Australia 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue, the two nations also underscored the importance of further enhancing cooperation in information exchange and maritime domain awareness.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar met Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles and Foreign Minister Penny Wong here as part of the ministerial dialogue.

In his opening remarks, Jaishankar said the India-Australia bilateral relationship has grown rapidly in the past one year, at a time when there is increasing uncertainty in the world.

"We are seeing sharper polarisation, deeper stresses and today, while it is important to ensure that the routine is there for the region to feel safer. So, we have to build and act for stability on a daily basis," he said.

Marles said for both India and Australia, China is the biggest trade partner and also the "biggest security anxiety", and underscored the need for the two countries to work together.

"We share an ocean and in that sense, we are neighbours, and there has never been a more important time for our two countries to be working together," Marles said, stressing on the importance of cooperation on maritime domain awareness.

Jaishankar said India and Australia do face "exceptional challenges", and it is important for both the countries to plan for these exceptions.

"These could be man-made exceptions, these could be HADR (humanitarian assistance and disaster relief) situations where again it is important that we have a culture of cooperation to withstand," he said.

Singh said the India-Australia partnership will work well not just for the mutual benefit of both the countries but also for the overall peace, security and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific.

He stressed that defence, in particular, has emerged as one of the most important pillars of the India-Australia strategic partnership.

"The commitment towards further strengthening our bilateral relationship has been affirmed at the highest levels every time our prime ministers met, either for summit-level talks or at multilateral forums such at the Quad and G-20," Singh said.

Earlier, during a bilateral meeting with Marles, Singh said the two sides concurred that a strong bilateral defence partnership will "augur well" not just for the two countries but also for the overall security of the Indo-Pacific region.

The two ministers agreed that deepening cooperation in the defence industry and research would "give a fillip to the already strong relationship", according to a statement issued by the Indian defence ministry.

Singh suggested that shipbuilding, ship repair and maintenance, and aircraft maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) could be the potential areas of collaboration.

The leaders reaffirmed commitment towards further strengthening the defence relations between the two countries, the statement said.

Singh congratulated Marles on the maiden and successful conduct of multilateral exercise 'Malabar' by Australia in August.

"Both ministers underscored the importance of further enhancing cooperation in information exchange and maritime domain awareness between the two countries," it said.

The ministry said that "both the ministers reaffirmed their commitment towards further strengthening the bilateral defence relations".

They expressed satisfaction at the increasing military-to-military cooperation between the two countries, including joint exercises, exchanges and institutional dialogue, it said.

The two sides are also in an advanced stage of discussion to conclude implementing arrangements on hydrography cooperation and cooperation for air-to-air refuelling, officials said.

Singh emphasised that the forces of the two countries should also look at cooperating in "niche training areas like artificial intelligence, anti-submarine and anti-drone warfare and cyber domain".

"The two ministers also discussed cooperation for joint research in underwater technologies. Collaboration between the defence start-ups of both countries, including that for solving challenges jointly, was discussed by the ministers. They concurred that a strong India-Australia defence partnership will augur well not just for the mutual benefit of the two countries but also for the overall security of the Indo-Pacific," it added.


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