CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday called for a closer strategic partnership between India and Australia as well as a closer trading relationship, warning that peace in the Asia-Pacific region cannot be taken for granted.
Modi said in a rare address to the Australian Parliament that few countries have as much synergy as energy-hungry India and resource-rich Australia. The two countries were also "united by the ideals of democracy," he said.
"Our region has seen huge progress on the foundation of peace and stability, but we cannot take this for granted," he said.
"Preserving it will be the most important task in the region. India and Australia can play their part in it by expanding our security cooperation and deepening our international partnerships in the region," he added.
Modi's speech came a day after Chinese President Xi Jinping told the Australian Parliament that China, Australia's largest trading partner, was committed to peaceful development and resolution of territorial disputes.
China and Australia signed a preliminary free-trade deal on Monday that is expected to take effect next year.
Having also struck free-trade deals with Japan and South Korea, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Australia's next priority was securing a comprehensive economic partnership agreement with India next year.
Abbott signed a uranium export deal with India for peaceful power generation in September when he became the first world leader to visit newly elected Modi.
Modi has promised to provide power to his entire country within five years. Around 400 million Indians still have no access to electricity at all, while hundreds of millions more are lucky to get a couple of hours a day with electricity.
"I see Australia as a major partner in every area of our national priority, providing skills and education to our youth," Modi told Parliament said.
Australia has immense opportunities to participate in India's progress, he said.
Modi opened his speech with a joke about Abbott's now-infamous threat to "shirt front" Russian President Vladimir Putin — an Australian football term for a head-on shoulder charge to an opponent's chest — at the G-20 summit of world leaders in Brisbane, Australia, last weekend .
"I'm the third head of the government you are listening to this week, I do not know how you are doing this," he said. "Maybe this is Prime Minister Abbott's way of shirt fronting you."
Members of Parliament erupted into laughter at the comment, and even Abbott was seen chuckling.
Last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron took his own playful dig at Abbott, noting in his speech to Parliament that he was a bit nervous when he was approached by steely-eyed Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at a recent summit in Italy.
"I wondered for a moment whether I was heading for what I'm told we now need to call a shirt fronting," Cameron said.
Associated Press writer Kristen Gelineau in Sydney contributed to this report.