Scott Morrison has told Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that Russia “should be held accountable” for its invasion of Ukraine during a key virtual summit between the two leaders.
Most important points:
Unlike other Quad members, India has not criticized the Russian invasion
The two countries are working towards mutual recognition of university degrees
New agreements also see Australia invest more than $200 million in defense, renewable energy and critical mineral production initiatives
The catastrophic war in Ukraine has exposed divisions between India and other members of the Quad — Australia, the United States and Japan — who have all hit Russia with sanctions and provided Ukraine military and financial support to help it fend off the invasion.
But India remains dependent on Russia for defense equipment and key military technology.
While Mr Modi has called for peace in Ukraine, India has not criticized the Russian invasion and has abstained from a number of key United Nations votes condemning Vladimir Putin’s aggression.
Australia has not publicly criticized India for its stance, partly because it accepts New Delhi’s continued dependence on Russia in key sectors, and partly because officials believe that trying to increase pressure on India would only create resentment in New Delhi.
Japan has also taken a cautious line, urging India to take a stronger stance without directly criticizing its current stance on the Russian invasion.
After meeting Mr Modi on Saturday, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the Russian invasion shook “the foundations of the international order” and demanded a “firm” response.
Mr Morrison also used his opening remarks during his meeting with Mr Modi to draw attention back to Ukraine and to emphasize the magnitude of the crisis.
“Today’s meeting is, of course, set against the very harrowing backdrop of the war in Europe that should never take place in our own region,” he said.
“I think the call from our Quad leaders recently… gave us an opportunity to discuss Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, but it also gave us an opportunity to discuss the implications and consequences of that terrible event for our own region in the Indo-Pacific and the coercion and problems we face here.”
But he also acknowledged that the Quad’s main focus was the immediate region, stressed the importance of maintaining cooperation between democracies in the Indo-Pacific and said Mr Modi had shown “leadership” by “keeping us focused on those important issues”.
After the summit, India’s foreign minister, Harsh V Shringla, downplayed the disagreements between the two leaders on the issue, saying Australia “understood” India’s stance on Ukraine.
“There was serious concern about the ongoing conflict and humanitarian situation in Ukraine. This was something that both leaders talked about, and the need to end hostilities in that regard.”
Diploma Recognition for Indian Students on the Map
Mr Morrison and Mr Modi also unveiled a host of new agreements, with Australia investing more than $200 million in a host of new collaborative initiatives in a number of areas, including defence, renewable energy, skills and training , electric vehicles and the production of critical minerals .
The government will also establish a new center for Australia-India relations aimed at strengthening business ties, as well as pouring $25 million into a space cooperation program.
In a potentially significant development for Australia’s vast Indian diaspora, the two countries also agreed to initiate a process that would allow them to recognize mutual university degrees in the future.
“This is very important to us because of the number of Indian students in Australia. Mutual recognition means you can get a degree in Australia, and that’s recognized in India.”
A mutual recognition agreement could also have major implications for Indian migrants, who make up the second largest migrant group in Australia.
There are more than 722,000 Australians of Indian descent and that number will exceed 800,000 by mid-2022.
New migrants often face some battles to get into work, and the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council of Australia has previously said the recognition of qualifications is often a barrier.
And while Modi and Morrison promised again to deepen economic cooperation, they did not unveil a new free trade agreement as some analysts had predicted.
Last year, senior ministers told officials to try and negotiate a mid-term or “early harvest” deal before the end of 2021. Both countries say they have made real progress in the negotiations – despite the deadline being over – and have suggested an announcement is imminent.
Morrison said both countries would “redouble” their efforts to get an interim agreement to “unlock new opportunities”, while Modi said they would come to a deal “very soon”.