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Australia seeks to strengthen ties with India in key strategic sectors amid covid tensions with China

ANI | Updated: May 21, 2020 11:38 IST

Canberra [Australia], May 21 (ANI): Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, are looking forward to deepening the countries' strategic relationship, with both sides expected to sign a range of pacts from defence to trade in strategic sectors amid heightened tensions with China over Beijing's response to coronavirus pandemic.
During a virtual summit, scheduled to take place on June 4, both leaders are expected to ramp up efforts to diversify Australia's export markets and find trusted suppliers of vital products and components, a local newspaper, The Australian reported on Tuesday.
The new agreements will focus on reliable supply chains in key strategic sectors, including medical goods, technology and critical minerals, amid heightened tensions with China over Beijing's response to coronavirus pandemic.
The leaders will seal a new defence agreement allowing reciprocal access to bases and co-operation on military technology projects, while a new education partnership will be on the table to help overcome Australian university reliance on Chinese students.
The talks in terms of strategic convergence, now have greater significance as COVID-19 exacerbates the strategic contest between the US and China, and forces like-minded countries to seek out reliable partners.
Australian farmers could also benefit, with talks underway on expanding agricultural exports to India, including barley, as China throws up new trade barriers, media reports stated.
The virtual summit follows the cancellation of Morrison's planned state visit to India in January due to the bushfires.
Morrison said last year, ahead of his planned visit, that India was "a natural partner for Australia", referring to the countries' "shared values" -- a point of differentiation with China.
Former Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Peter Varghese, who wrote a landmark report on the bilateral relationship in 2018, was quoted by the newspaper as saying that India would be even more important to Australia in the post-COVID world. "If one of the lessons from COVID is that countries need to spread their risk, then finding new markets or building up existing markets is a crucial part of that," he added.
Varghese noted that India, a member of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue along with Australia, Japan and the US, was a vital strategic partner to Australia in helping "constrain China's ambitions to be the predominant power".
"That shared objective between Australia and India of not wanting to see the region dominated by China is a key component of building up our geopolitical relationship," he told The Australian.
The summit also follows recent talks between Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on the pandemic response and Australia's call for an independent inquiry, which was overwhelmingly backed at the World Health Assembly on Tuesday.
Australia wants to support India to develop a domestic critical minerals processing industry, which would provide Western nations with an alternative to sourcing the materials from China.
Meanwhile, India has strong expertise as a manufacturer of drugs and medical equipment, while Australia is a centre of biomedical research, opening the possibility for closer co-operation in the key sector, the media reported further. (ANI)