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Must not allow Ukraine to shift focus from Indo-Pacific: India and Australia

Must not allow Ukraine to shift focus from Indo-Pacific: India and Australia
Australian PM Scott Morrison and Indian PM Narendra Modi during their virtual meeting

New Delhi:
While Australian PM Scott Morrison called for holding Russia to account for its Ukraine offensive in the virtual summit with PM Narendra Modi, Australia also expressed understanding of India's position on Ukraine, as foreign secretary Harsh Shringla said after the meeting. 

However, even as Modi and Morrison expressed serious concern over the conflict and the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, they agreed that the conflict in Europe should not divert the Quad countries’ focus from the Indo-Pacific with Morrison underlining the need to ensure what is happening in Ukraine never occurs in the Indo-Pacific. 

Modi briefed his counterpart about the situation at LAC and reiterated there cannot be normalisation of ties with China till peace and tranquillity along the border is restored. Morrison also spoke against Chinese activities in South China Sea. Shringla said a significant outcome of the summit was to institutionalise an annual bilateral summit mechanism. India had annual summits only with Russia and Japan till now. 

While the 2 countries signed several agreements including one for co-investment in Australian critical mineral projects, an area Australia is looking to compete with China in, a joint statement by the 2 sides was still awaited till late in the night. Australia is looking to increase its investments in India by Rs 1500 crore with the fresh agreements. 

While Modi didn’t mention Ukraine in his opening remarks, Morrison brought up Russia’s "unlawful invasion’’ saying the tragic loss of life underlies the importance of holding Russia to account. "But cooperation between like-minded liberal democracies is key to an open and inclusive and resilient and prosperous Indo-Pacific, and I welcome your leadership within the Quad to keeping us focused on those important issues,’’ he said. While Japan had publicly said after the summit with India on Saturday that PM Fumio Kishida asked Modi to take up with President Vladimir Putin the need to main a "free and open international order’’, there was no such pronouncement by the Australians after the summit. 

Shringla said Morrison expressed understanding for India's position "which he felt definitely reflected our own situation, our own sort of considerations’’. The 2 leaders also called for cessation of hostilities and there was equal emphasis that "the international order stands on the UN Charter, on the rule of law and respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states’’. 

"Both the leaders also appreciated the increasing strategic convergence between the two countries as fellow democracies with shared values and common interests, which include a free, open, inclusive, and prosperous Indo-Pacific,’’ said the government in a statement. 

While the 2 countries are looking to sign an interim trade agreement as early as this month, Modi and Morrison reviewed progress in the negotiations for CECA with the former calling for an early finalisation of the agreement. ``The quick conclusion of CECA will definitely give a boost to our economic security,’’ said Modi. 

The 2 countries also announced establishment of General Rawat India-Australia Young Defence Officers’ Exchange Programme. 

Modi also thanked Morrison for the initiative to return ancient Indian artefacts. ``These and the artefacts that you have sent back, these include statues and paintings that are hundreds of years old and that have been illegally taken out of various Indian states, including Rajasthan, West Bengal, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh,’’ he said.

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