India and Australia on Thursday upgraded their ties to a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership” and signed a raft of agreements in areas spanning mining of critical elements and cyber security cooperation to defence including one that allows their militaries reciprocal access to bases for logistics support.

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison also pledged cooperation across a broad spectrum — from terrorism, maritime security challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, reform in the World Trade Organisation to ways to deal with the coronavirus crisis. Collaboration in defence science and technology, public administration, water resources management and vocational training were some other areas the two countries shortlisted to deepen their partnership.

The two prime ministers held talks through video link due to the limitations imposed by covid-19 pandemic on international travel.

Besides the logistics agreement, a second key takeaway was a pact on mining critical and strategic minerals.

In his remarks, Modi said that the present was the “perfect opportunity” for both countries to deepen relations. “India is committed to expanding its relations with Australia in a comprehensive and quick manner. This is important not only for our two countries but also for the Indo-Pacific region and the world,” Modi said.

Morrison his part said India-Australia ties as “very, very comfortable relationship, it is a very natural relationship.”

“In a time like this, we want to deal very much with friends and trusted partners and this is a partnership which has stood the test time and again and is during the course of this current (covid-19) crisis,” he said.

According to Indian officials, the two prime ministers did not discuss China – with whom India has ongoing border tensions and Australia has testy ties due to its insistence that a “fair” enquiry be held into how covid-19 originated and became a pandemic of such proportions.

There was also no mention of Australia joining the Malabar series of naval exercises that initially began as a bilateral engagement between the navies of India and the US but was expanded a few years ago to include Japan. At least two people familiar with the matter previously had said that the two prime ministers during their summit could announce that Australia would be joining the Malabar exercises.

But the some remarks made by the two leaders made it amply clear that China was very much in the minds of the two leaders when they addressed each other. Morrison’s comment that the India-Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership would build trust between the two countries “because we want commercial and trading relationships that are built on trust” seemed a swipe at China given its recent actions and threats to impose economic restrictions on Australia for its position on covid-19.

Modi in his remarks noted that global values like democracy, rule of law, freedom, mutual respect, respect for international institutions and transparency were being challenged and “we can strengthen them by strengthening mutual relations.”

The joint statement on the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership said it was based on “mutual understanding, trust, common interests and the shared values of democracy and rule of law. It reflects India and Australia’s strong commitment to practical global cooperation to address major challenges like COVID-19. “

The Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) will allow militaries of the two countries to use each other’s bases for repair and replenishment of supplies besides facilitating scaling up of overall defence cooperation. India has already signed similar agreements with the US, France and Singapore.

According to a joint statement issued after the Modi-Morrison talks, both sides decided to “re-engage on a bilateral Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) while suitably considering earlier bilateral discussions where a mutually agreed way forward can be found.” The two countries also discussed the issue of taxation of offshore income of Indian firms through the use of the India-Australia Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) and sought early resolution of the matter.

The joint statement said both sides support a comprehensive approach in combating terrorism, including by countering violent extremism, preventing radicalisation, disrupting financial support to terrorists and facilitating prosecution of those involved in acts of terror.

“Australia conveyed that India could consider it as a stable, reliable and trusted supplier of high-quality mineral resources to India. Both sides jointly decided to diversify and expand the existing resources partnership,” the statement said adding the pact on mining critical and strategic minerals identified specific areas for collaboration.

The two sides agreed that their prime ministers will increase the frequency of contacts “through reciprocal bilateral visits and annual meetings in the margins of international events.”

Both countries also announced upgrading a key dialogue, till now held between the foreign secretaries and defence secretaries of the two countries, to the level of foreign and defence ministers.

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