Perth : The External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar, lauded the deepening relationship between India and Australia during his address at the 7th Indian Ocean Conference held in Perth.
Describing the ties as "increasingly consequential," Jaishankar highlighted the nations' status as Comprehensive Strategic Partners, Quad members, and collaborators in trilaterals with France and Indonesia.
Notably, Jaishankar is in Perth to attend the two-day 7th Indian Ocean Conference that went underway today with the theme “Towards a Stable and Sustainable Indian Ocean.”
Speaking on the "increasingly consequential relationship" between India and Australia, Jaishankar said, "A few words on India-Australia relations. Not because we happen to be in Perth, but because it is truly an increasingly consequential relationship. We are today officially Comprehensive Strategic partners, Quad members and share trilaterals with France and Indonesia.”
The bilateral architecture between India and Australia spans various sectors, including foreign affairs, defense, trade, power, education, and skill development. The commitment is evident through regular 2+2 meetings, joint military exercises such as Exercise Malabar, and collaborative efforts such as the Maritime Fusion Centre.
"The Indian community in Australia has expanded significantly, and the ECTA has visibly boosted our trade. Every Australian Prime Minister in the last decade has met his Indian counterpart, a far cry from the past. The current ones have actually met seven times. My Conversations with Foreign Minister Penny Wong now go well beyond our bilateral ties and bring out the many similarities of our approach to world affairs,” the EAM also said.
The Indian community's significant growth in Australia and enhanced trade under the ECTA agreement further underline the robust nature of the relationship.
"In short, we have a strong, comfortable, and deepening relationship. A foreign policy survey in India released just two days ago puts Australia among our top three partners in terms of reliability. But to all of you who are gathered here, I want to emphasize that these ties are and will be a force for regional and global good,” he added.
Jaishankar emphasized that the ties between India and Australia extend beyond bilateral matters. He highlighted India's proactive engagement in plurilateral groups, particularly in the maritime domain, with relevance to the Indian Ocean's future.
"As a result, since 2014, India has joined or initiated 36 plurilateral groups in different domains. Many of them have direct relevance to the future of the Indian Ocean. Others have domain relevance that contributes to the well-being and security of maritime spaces and their littoral territories. There are global endeavours that naturally have a regional application as well. Some have strengthened our bilateral partnership with Australia and the Pacific Islands. As regards connectivity, building on the remarks earlier today by Minister Vivian, let me highlight the need for lateral land-based connectivity across the Indian Ocean region. These are essential to supplement and complement the maritime flows," he also said.
The need for lateral land-based connectivity across the Indian Ocean region was stressed, with projects like the IMEC Corridor and the Trilateral Highway gaining significance. "Together, they can be veritable changers, connecting the Pacific to the Atlantic. Allow me to now share some thoughts in regard to other priorities," Jaishankar said.
The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) were also discussed as key platforms fostering regional cooperation, sustainable development, and maritime security. "Apart from being the highest contributor to the IORA Special Fund, we have encouraged the formulation of IORA's Outlook on the Indo-Pacific and restructuring the Chair of Indian Ocean Studies (CIOS)," the EAM added.
Jaishankar pointed out India's commitment to strengthening IORA's structural and institutional aspects during its upcoming chair term.
"Progress on IPOI reflects a strengthening bond among nations that share a common desire to sustain the two oceans through practical, project-based cooperation. Looking forward, the IPOI aims to launch new projects and initiatives while establishing greater synergy with IORA," he also said.
The speech delved into India's role in the Quad grouping, emphasising its contribution to the global good. Jaishankar dismissed claims challenging ASEAN's centrality in the Quad's objectives, expressing confidence that ASEAN would perceive the Quad's value in the region.
The growing relations with the Pacific Islands, India's role in BIMSTEC, and the significance of the Quad in addressing global challenges were highlighted.
"Let me also flag the growth of BIMSTEC, an important regional forum covering the Bay of Bengal. For India, it is a convergence of our "Neighbourhood First" policy, or "Act East" outlook, and Indian Ocean interests. India is the lead country for the Security pillar of BIMSTEC, which covers counter-terrorism and transnational crime, disaster management, and energy security," said the External Affairs Minister.
Jaishankar concluded by expressing India's commitment to various developmental projects in the Pacific Islands, aligning with the nation's broader outlook towards the Global South.
"In the last decade, they have evolved steadily, and the May 2023 Summit in Port Moresby has laid out some ambitious goals. India is committed to building a hospital and an oceanic research centre in Fiji, as well as a cyber security hub and space application centre in Papua New Guinea. With all other members, we will be engaging in education, solarisation, desalination, dialysis facilities, artificial limbs, sea ambulances and SME development. This is in tune with our larger outlook vis-a-vis the Global South," he said, ending his address.
The Indian Ocean Conference is a flagship consultative forum for countries in the Indian Ocean Region, organised annually by the Ministry of External Affairs in association with the India Foundation. The conference will be held in association with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Government of Australia, along with the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore, and the Perth-US Asia Centre in Australia.