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Trade, defence, education and COVID-19 on agenda as Scott Morrison meets with Indian PM Narendra Modi in a ‘virtual summit’

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (file pic) Source: (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will meet with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in a virtual summit on Thursday noon.

‘I am pleased to announce that I will be joining the Honourable Shri Mr Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of the Republic of India, on 4 June 2020 for the first Australia-India Leaders’ Virtual Summit,’ PM Morrison said in a statement on Sunday.


Highlights:

  • India is Australia's eighth-largest trading partner
  • Two-way trade with India was valued at over $30 billion in 2018-19
  • Australia is home to 660,000 people born in India

PM Morrison was scheduled to visit India in January 2020 to meet with the Indian leadership, businesses and deliver the keynote address at the eminent Raisina Dialogue.

It was meant to be Mr Morrison’s first visit to India after becoming the Prime Minister but it was called off at the last minute due to the bushfire crisis.

On Sunday, Prime Minister took to Twitter to announce the two leaders were finally meeting, but this time in a ‘virtual summit’ amid COVID-19 pandemic.

Holding a tray full of samosas (an Indian puff pastry), Mr Morrison said it was "a pity" his meeting with Mr Modi was going to be via video link.

"Sunday ScoMosas with mango chutney, all made from scratch — including the chutney!" he tweeted.

Mr Modi responded saying the samosas looked "delicious".

"Connected by the Indian Ocean, united by the Indian Samosa! Looks delicious, PM @ScottMorrisonMP!" he tweeted.

What’s on agenda for Leaders’ Virtual Summit?

PM Morrison has said he was looking forward to discussing the countries' responses to the COVID-19 pandemic along with discussing new opportunities for trade.

"Prime Minister Modi and I will also discuss new opportunities in defence, trade, maritime safety and security, science and technology, and education," Mr Morrison said.

“As like-minded democracies and natural strategic partners, Australia and India are in full agreement that our strong bilateral relationship is key to a more open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific.

“The Virtual Summit will deepen our strong existing ties. With the shared determination of both nations, I have no doubt that our partnership will continue to go from strength to strength.”

It is time to ‘deepen security engagement’

Sameer Patil, Fellow, International Security Studies Programme at Gateway House, an India-based think tank believes the current scenario provides an opportunity for Australia and India to strengthen their security engagement.

“The COVID-19 pandemic, U.S.-China tensions and a shared concern about China’s growing influence provide an opportunity for India and Australia to deepen their security engagement.” Mr Patil told SBS Hindi.

“Since 2014, they have stepped up security cooperation to include annual strategic dialogues, regular interaction between their two militaries and intelligence sharing between the two militaries and intelligence sharing on counter-terrorism issues,” he says.

This cooperation can be taken forward to include defence technology cooperation, cybersecurity for the Indo-Pacific, foreign investment in critical infrastructure and Quadrilateral security initiative, Mr Patil says.

“India and Australia can work on developing defence technologies, such as technologies related to sensors, propulsion and nano-materials.

“India also needs to learn from Australian examples, like the Australian Marine Complex’s Common User Facility at Henderson, near Perth, which offers integrated fabrication and assembly facility infrastructure for its shipbuilding industry – not just defence, but also for oil and gas and ocean mining.

“India is actively cooperating with countries in the region for cyber capacity building programmes. This cyber diplomacy aligns well with Australia’s cyber cooperation programme, under which Canberra helps Indo-Pacific countries in capacity building on cybercrime prevention and prosecution. The scope of the India and Australia Cyber Policy Dialogue can be expanded to reflect these initiatives and focus on creating resilient and safe cyberspace for the Indo-Pacific.

“India, recently, revised the foreign investment norms to prevent opportunistic takeovers of firms hit by the lockdown induced by the COVID-19 outbreak. Australia has put in place a reasonably robust mechanism to protect its critical infrastructure sectors from foreign interference. Given Canberra’s extensive experience in this domain, it can be another area of bilateral cooperation to understand the national security risks of foreign investments – espionage, sabotage and foreign interference in sectors of telecommunications, electricity, gas, water and ports.

“And given the synergies and strengths of the Quad (an informal strategic dialogue between the United States, Japan, Australia and India), a case can definitely be made to expand Quad’s focus from military to non-military but strategic issues such as cybersecurity, counter-terrorism and technology including next-generation mobile communication and data transfer standards.”

India is Australia’s eighth-largest trading partner with two-way trade valued at $30.3 billion in 2018-19.

India is the top source of permanent migrants and citizens in Australia with over 660,000 people born in India, calling Australia, home.   

 

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