India, Australia 2 plus 2 ministerial expected in September

Quad initiative, travel restrictions Canberra imposed because of pandemic on agenda

Published - August 12, 2021 04:52 am IST - NEW DELHI

India and Australia are expected to hold the first minister-level “2 plus 2” meeting in September.

The maiden meeting between the Foreign and Defence Ministers is part of the bilateral plan to upgrade Secretary-level “2 plus 2” interactions. Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Peter Dutton are expected to visit India and Indonesia in September after holding talks with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary General Lloyd Austin.

According to a report in Australian media, Prime Minister Scott Morrison may also attend a Quad summit level meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in September in New York. The report published by the Australian network ABC claimed that the meeting is “not a certainty”.

Ms. Payne has met her Indian counterpart S. Jaishankar during the pandemic at virtual interactions and the planned September visit is the first that she will meet physically him in Delhi for an official interaction since the pandemic began. In May she had travelled to the U.K. for a G7 Foreign Ministers meeting that was also attended by Mr. Jaishankar but the Minister had to quarantine after members of the team were found to be COVID-19 positive.

Apart from the Quad initiative, Australia and India also have to deal with the travel restrictions that have been placed because of the pandemic. Indian High Commissioner to Australia Manpreet Vohra in an interview to The Guardian Australia on August 9 had pointed out that Australia was “eroding its reputation” as a hospitable country for foreign students as it is yet to spell out a policy on the return of foreign students who have suffered because of the pandemic-related restrictions.

“That is not good for the students, of course, directly affected that is perhaps also not good for the overall image of Australia as a great place for Indian students. We’ve been requesting the Australian government to consider ways and means to at least signal to the students a timeframe by which they can expect to be back,” said Mr. Vohra.

Both sides carried out evacuation flights during the pandemic for citizens. The next step in opening up the Australian travel routes to the Indians is yet to be announced.

Defence Minister Peter Dutton is expected to invite India to join the next round of Talisman Sabre exercises in Queensland which include Australia, Japan, South Korea and the U.S. The 2021 Talisman Sabre exercise concluded last week and the next edition is scheduled in 2023. Talisman Sabre is the biggest war exercise of Australia. The Quad countries — Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. — will participate in the annual Malabar exercise near Guam later this month.

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