Modi, Morrison hold first meeting in Washington after formation of AUKUS


Modi and Morrison meet in Washington (Photo credit: @PMOIndia/Twitter)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison met in Washington, a day before the important Quad Leaders’ Summit in the US capital. 

This was the first meeting between the two leaders after the formation of the Australia, United Kingdomn, United States (AUKUS) security grouping focusing on the Indo-Pacific region and China. Analysts say that the formation of the AUKUS will sharply define the role of the Quad, which could take a geo-economic rather that a security and geopolitical direction. 

The two prime ministers discussed a range of issues including strengthening trade relations, changes in the Indo-Pacific region and global developments. They had earlier spoken over the phone a week around the time Australia had signed the AUKUS pact with the UK and the US--resulting in a severe backlash from allies.

In a statement, the Ministry of External Affairs said: "The last bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Morrison was the Leaders’ Virtual Summit held on 4 June 2020 when the Strategic Partnership between India and Australia was elevated to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership".

The two reviewed the progress of the CSP and reiterated their common objective of working towards an open, free, prosperous and rules-based Indo-Pacific region.

The bilateral meet comes at a time when Australia is facing unbridled criticism from its Western allies for ditching France over a nearly $40 billion submarine deal. Canberra has instead chosen to buy American nuclear-powered submarines in a trilateral pact with the UK and the US.

Over the past over one-and-a-half years, Australia is also locked in a bitter trade and diplomatic war with China for asking an investigation into the origins of the virus. Beijing retaliated by imposing trade sanctions on farm and mine products from Australia resulting in monumental trade losses.

India is keen to improve its bilateral relations with Australia as both nations deal with an aggressive China.

As Australia has already firmed up its military tie-up with the US and the UK to compete with China in the Indo-Pacific, it also wants to reach out to India for trade and commerce.

Former Australian PM Tony Abbot, now the  Australian PM's Special Trade Envoy, was in India last month building economic and trade bridges between the two countries. In an editorial he had cited that India--an emerging democratic superpower--is a perfect replacement for China and needs to be accorded its rightful place in the world.

Modi and Morrison, in their Washington meeting also reviewed the negotiations on a bilateral Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) about which they hope to make an announcement on an interim agreement by December 2021.

Also in focus were the mega economic challenges posed by the spread of the coronavirus that has crushed countries and societies. The subsequent lockdowns also have broken down supply chains furthering economic and commercial distress.

The two prime ministers also discussed global issues related to the climate crisis and environment protection.