The inaugural India-Australia 2+2 Dialogue at the Foreign and Defence Ministerial level was held in New Delhi on 11 September 2021. External Affairs Minister of India S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh met their Australian counterparts Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Peter Dutton during their visit to New Delhi, for the high-level Dialogue. The meeting was held in pursuance of the ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’ between the two Indo-Pacific countries agreed during the ‘virtual bilateral summit’ held at Prime Ministerial level in June 2020. The inaugural Dialogue, with an aim to push the strategic and defence cooperation between the two countries, covered “a range of bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest.” 
While announcing the joint visit to India, Indonesia, Republic of Korea and the United States to advance Australia’s relationship with strategic regional partners, Minister Payne had stated that “the relationship between Australia and India is at an historic high, as our nations work together to promote positive regional cooperation”.
This 2+2 format meeting, which has been decided to be held at least once in every two years, comes at a crucial time when the bilateral relationship between the two countries has been on an upswing in recent years. During the Dialogue, the Australian side recognised India as “rising Indo-Pacific great power and an increasingly significant security partner for Australia, particularly in the maritime domain”.
With their shared maritime geography, growing security ties, an important aspect of the overall bilateral relationship between India and Australia has been maritime cooperation in the context of the increasing salience of the Indo-Pacific. The most significant recent development in furthering security ties has been Australia’s re-entry into the Malabar exercises for the 24th iteration held in the Arabian Sea in November 2020. This was the first time Australian Navy participated in the crucial exercise with the navies of the other Quad countries after the 2007 edition of Malabar. The latest iteration of the Malabar with Quad countries was held in the Western Pacific in Guam in August 2021. In addition, bilateral naval exercises between the two countries, started in 2015, have become more complex over the years. The AUSINDEX-2019 conducted in Vishakhapatnam was the most intense till date, with a focus on anti-submarine warfare. Australia’s Northern Territory hosted the fourth iteration of bilateral AUSINDEX maritime warfare exercises between the Royal Australian and the Indian Navies ahead of the first 2+2 Dialogue. Australia invited India to participate in the next Exercise Talisman Sabre (TS), Australia’s biggest war games in 2023, to enhance joint operational defence capacity. Approximately 17,000 military personnel from seven Pacific nations participated on land, air and sea during TS21.
Australia is one of the first partners to have started practical collaboration on the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI). Australia has expressed willingness to work with India and other interested partners in the region, in taking forward the IPOI announced by PM Modi at the East Asia Summit (EAS) in 2019. In April 2021, Australia announced AUD 1.4 million grant under the IPOI “to advance Australia and India’s shared vision for the Indo-Pacific” focusing on different pillars of the IPOI. On July7, 2021, first round of grants of the Australia-India Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative Partnership (AIIPOIP) program was announced by Australian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterating “strong commitment to working with close regional partners in delivering an open, inclusive, resilient, prosperous and rules-based maritime order”. Significantly during the Dialogue, two sides also welcomed the Indo-Pacific Strategy of the European Union. Both countries also agreed to collaborate in Australia’s Pacific Step-Up policy for small islands in the South Pacific.
An increasing convergence of interests in the maritime realm, offers scope for deepening bilateral cooperation to secure the global commons and cooperatively support economic prosperity.
Discussion at the 2+2 meeting focused on further expanding bilateral defence cooperation. An important recent development in strengthening defence cooperation between the two countries was the signing of the much awaited Arrangement concerning Mutual Logistics Support (MLSA) in June 2020. The agreement allows a possibility for India and Australia to use each other’s strategically located island territories i.e. India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands closer to Malacca strait and Australia’s Cocos Islands located in the Indian Ocean in close proximity to Lombok, Sunda and Makassar Straits. It will enhance their joint capacity particularly in maritime domain awareness.
An important agenda of discussion at the Dialogue was cooperation in confronting challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. Both sides agreed to deepen vaccine manufacturing under Quad framework and furthering cooperation in medical research and critical medical supplies. As strategic partners, Australia and India are willing to work together towards decentralized globalization, secured and resilient global supply chains’ and ‘to shape a prosperous, open and stable multilateral regional order post-COVID,
Recent developments in Afghanistan was a major subject of discussion during the meeting, as two countries highlighted importance of combating terrorism with international cooperation, given the fragile security situation in the region.
In the past, notwithstanding positive developments in the bilateral relationship, there was some political ambivalence on both sides, particularly when it came to playing an active role to build a stable regional order. However, the pandemic is giving new shape to geopolitical equations in the world. The geopolitical environment in the Indo-Pacific “is in rapid flux”. As anti-China sentiment has been rising in the wake of the pandemic, Japan and South Korea have supported some of their firms moving production out of China. Beijing’s continued military activities in the South China Sea have worried Southeast Asian countries currently battling the pandemic. Many ‘sore points’ have emerged in Australia-China relations in recent time, including the issue of 5G, Canberra’s critique of Chinese meddling in Australia’s domestic politics, COVID 19 and subsequent trade war between the two. United States under the new Biden Admiration has clearly articulated its continued commitment to the Indo-Pacific region. With early engagement with Quad and Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI), Biden Administration has continued with its predecessors’ tough approach towards China. The leaders of the Quad, which has seen significant progress since the pandemic, are expected to meet later this month in Washington.
With this backdrop of dynamic geopolitical scenario, India and Australia with their growing trade and closer security and defence cooperation and their engagement with other like-minded regional players will play a significant role in determining the regional balance of power.
The recent positive developments in bilateral ties between India and Australia have shown that there is now a considerable alignment in their strategic interests, as the ambivalence of the past is fading and both countries appear ready to play an active role in structuring the regional balance of power for ‘a stable multipolar and rebalanced order with space for plurilateralism’ as well. The inaugural dialogue is a landmark in many ways in strengthening the bilateral relationship between the two close Indo-Pacific partners to advance their shared vision of free, open and inclusive region underpinned by mutual prosperity and stability. The next round of dialogue has been agreed to be held in 2023.
*Dr. Pragya Pandey, Research Fellow, Indian Council World Affairs.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal.
 Joint Statement on a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between Republic of India and Australia, June 04, 2020,https://mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/32729/Joint_Statement_on_a_Comprehensive_Strategic_Partnership_between_Republic_of_India_and_Australia
 Joint visit to Indonesia, India, the Republic of Korea, and the United States, 8 September 2021, https://www.foreignminister.gov.au/minister/marise-payne/media-release/joint-visit-indonesia-india-republic-korea-and-united-states
 Talisman Sabre 21, https://www1.defence.gov.au/exercises/talisman-sabre-21
 Australia announces Rs 81.2 million grant for Indo-Pacific Ocean Initiative, https://www.wionews.com/india-news/australia-announces-rs-812-million-grant-for-indo-pacific-ocean-initiative-378702
 Australia-India Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative Partnership, https://www.foreignminister.gov.au/minister/marise-payne/media-release/australia-india-indo-pacific-oceans-initiative-partnership
History repeating: Australian military power in the Cocos Islands, https://theconversation.com/history-repeating-australian-military-power-in-the-cocos-islands-4484
 , https://www.mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/34250/Joint_Statement_on_Inaugural_IndiaAustralia_22_Ministerial_Dialogue_11_September_2021_New_Delhi
 Cooperation among select countries of the Indo-Pacific in fighting COVID-19 pandemic, May 14, 2020, https://mea.gov.in/press-releases.htm?dtl/32691/Cooperation_among_select_countries_of_the_IndoPacific_in_fighting_COVID19_pandemic
 , https://www.mea.gov.in/Speeches-Statements.htm?dtl/34246/Opening_Remarks_by_the_External_Affairs_Minister_at_the_First_IndiaAustralia_22_Ministerial_Dialogue