India and Australia sealed a deal on Thursday to get access to each other's military bases, said India's Ministry of External Affairs, a pact that would clear the way for more military exchanges and exercises in the Indo-Pacific.
The mutual logistic support agreement was signed during a virtual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison. India has a similar pact with the United States which is seen as part of a broader security cooperation to balance China's growing economic and military weight in the region.
The ground work for the agreement with Australia was completed last December in the 2+2 dialogue between the Defence and Foreign secretaries of India and Australia.
In the first-of-its-kind summit, Modi and Morrison also discussed the coronavirus pandemic, cybersecurity and measures to boost trade.
A process of comprehensive reforms covering almost all areas has been initiated in India as it is viewing the coronavirus crisis as an "opportunity", said Modi as he pitched for a coordinated and collaborative approach to come out of the adverse economic and social impact of the epidemic that has infected around 65 lakh people and killed 3.88 lakh globally.
Referring to the virtual summit, Modi termed it "a new model of India-Australia partnership, a new model of conducting business". It was the first time that Modi held a "bilateral" virtual summit with a foreign leader.
Modi described his talks with Morrison as "an outstanding discussion", covering the entire expanse of ties between the two strategic partners. "Our government has decided to view this crisis as an opportunity. In India, a process of comprehensive reforms has been initiated in almost all areas. It will soon see results at the ground level," the prime minister said.
Delighted to meet again in the spirit of dosti (friendship) with my good friend PM @narendramodi and to take our Australia-India partnership to a new level. Mutual trust, shared values and common interests provides a strong foundation to working together even more closely. https://t.co/fvrNTtEgHZ
— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) June 4, 2020
Modi also conveyed his appreciation to Morrison for taking care of the Indian community in Australia, especially the students, during the "difficult time". The overall focus of the talks was on further broadbasing bilateral ties in a range of areas like healthcare, trade and defence.
In his remarks, Morrison complemented Modi for his "constructive and very positive" role including at the G-20 role in pushing for a concerted global approach in dealing with the coronavirus crisis.
Modi said he believed that it is the "perfect time and perfect opportunity" to further strengthen the relationship between India and Australia. "We have immense possibilities to make our friendship stronger," Modi said, adding: "How our relations become a 'factor of stability' for our region and for the world, how we work together for global good, all these aspects need to be considered."
The prime minister said India was committed to expand its relations with Australia on a wider and faster pace, noting that it is important not only for the two countries, but also for the Indo-Pacific region and the world.
"The role of our comprehensive strategic partnership will be more important in this period of global epidemic. The world needs a coordinated and collaborative approach to get out of the economic and social side effects of this epidemic," he said.
Relationship between the two nations was upgraded to a 'Strategic Partnership' level in 2009. Since then, both countries have expanded their cooperation in a range of key areas.
In its White Paper on Foreign Policy in 2017, Australia recognised India as the "pre-eminent maritime power among Indian Ocean countries" and a "front-rank partner of Australia".
The bilateral economic engagement too has been on an upswing in the last few years. According to official data, the trade between the two countries was around USD 21 billion in 2018-19.
Australia's cumulative investment in India is about USD 10.74 billion whereas India's total investment in Australia is USD 10.45 billion. Australian Super Pension Fund has invested USD 1 billion in India's National Investment and Infrastructure Fund. In the last few years, both the countries have been focusing on expanding maritime cooperation.
India and Australia commenced their first bilateral naval exercise 'AUSINDEX' in 2015 which was focused at deepening defence and maritime cooperation especially in the Indian Ocean. The third edition of AUSINDEX-2019 was held in the Bay of Bengal in April 2019.
Australia has been supportive of India's position on cross-border terrorism and on asking Pakistan to take meaningful action against terrorist groups operating from its soil. Australia also co-sponsored UNSC resolution to declare Azhar Masood a global terrorist.