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The Big Picture – Takeaways from Turnbull’s India Visit

  • May 3, 2017
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The Big Picture- RSTV
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Takeaways from Turnbull’s India Visit

Archives

TOPIC: General Studies 2

  • India and its neighbourhood- relations.
  • Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
  • Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests

India and Australia provided boost to trade and security ties in a meeting between Indian PM and Australian PM. The two countries signed six agreements including that of counter terrorism cooperation. But they could not complete negotiation on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA). Discussions were also around energy where Australia said that it is ready to supply uranium to India as soon as possible. Two countries had signed civil nuclear cooperation three years ago but actual supply has not yet commenced in the absence of commercial contract.

Takeaways

There is a need to look beyond agreements. The visit was in quick succession after Bangladesh PM. Thus, India is going forward in terms of regional approach to our own foreign policy interests.

In the joint statement, there is a clear and major focus on Indo-pacific region- IOR countries and Pacific Rim countries. So there is a clear focus between two leaders to find synergies and collaboration in this region.

Though India is not part of NSG, Australia has agreed to supply uranium to India. The OBOR was talked in much detail between two leaders. In March 2017, Chinese premier was in Australia. China was interested that OBOR initiative be talked about but none of the leaders talked about it as Australia did not agree to be a part of it. So India and Australia have decided not to send any high level delegation in that initiative. So it is one of the biggest takeaway of the dialogue.

Misses

  • There was no agreement in trade. Both countries have been struggling for a while on CECA. It is not easy to do it as there is certain amount of dampness which has come in getting CECA countries to sign it as domestic industry gets deeply impacted.

Most of CECA that India has signed, like with Singapore, India has realised that Indian industries’ competitiveness has been hurt very badly.

  • Supply of nuclear fuel is still pending. It is a bi-partisan commitment but as the commercial agreements have not been signed, the flow of the fuel has not really taken place.
  • Because of this, entire focus had been transferred to security and energy aspect and it is realised then that everyone is talking about China. China has been cribbing time and again that India, Australia and Japan are coming together to serve as a counterpoint to them and conduct naval exercises (Ex. Malabar).

There is lot of promise to do many things- discussions and suggestions about how to utilise the pacific and Indian Ocean. In the joint statement, there were repeated references to two issues-

  • In the maritime domain, the reference to UNCLOS and the commitment that both sides bring to table as far as they uphold international law is concerned. The subtext is related to China in many ways.
  • The Indo Pacific connect is due to maritime domain. The focus should be more on connectivity between the two oceans.

In this joint statement, Indian and Australia are committed to bilateral exercise- AUSINDEX 2018. It has no direct bearing on the other multilateral naval exercises suggested in the past where Australia was part of it.

China is monitoring all of it but India and Australia have good reason to be exchanging dialogue about what kind of security and strategic framework they think they can shape.

India and China have most issues of political nature- CPEC going through Indian territory and China is not respecting it. So if Silk Road initiative is joined by India and Australia join, it will give legitimacy to CPEC which India is not being part of.

Also, China earlier said that OBOR was only an economic configuration. But the way China is now going about it, it is showing that it is also a strategic move. Thus, most of the countries who have stake in region- USA, Australia, Britain, India and some of ASEAN countries are very cautious about sending highlevel delegation to OBOR.

Boost the bilaterals

With USA pulling out of crucial agreements like TPP, Australia is looking forward to other options. It is now reviewing its bilateral relations against the context of strategic landscape that is emerging.

One of the concern in past few years was that Australia was moving too close towards China and there were certain entities who wanted more robust relationship with China. However, some of China’s actions in last few months, especially when they rejected tribunal award on SCS, had created a lot of concern in entire region. When China thinks that its own interest is at stake, it not only uses unilateral approach but also military power.

So Australia is reviewing its bilateral in the region of which, India and Japan are good examples which provide necessary balance to Australia’s relation with China and USA.

Further, USA can no longer be trusted in containing China as it is not sure which way the Trump policies are going to bend. So the countries of Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean need to come together to contain China as it is getting stronger with space vacated by USA. They also have good relations with Russia. So as an economic and military power, they look very formidable.

 

More opportunities

Based on past experience, it would be prudent for India and Australia to identify the benefits of having cooperation within the maritime domain where both of them have certain confidence to bring to the table and discuss issues necessary to attain common goal. These should not be seen necessarily as directed against China or any other entity. That would seem as some kind of military dimensions to what is being mooted.

India has committed itself to IORA and there is a space for India and Australia to look at specifics there which are not directed against any third party. Another area for joint endeavour is Bay of Bengal where countries like Bangladesh can be brought in.

Conclusion

Cooperation between both countries is critical for the stability of the region, peace and security. Australia is somehow geographically left behind. So it has to work towards coming closer to Asia, building up relationship and also be relevant. The problems of the past have been sort out slowly (when India used imported uranium in its nuclear test weapons without specific permission) but it will take a while to come to level of relation that India shares with UK and USA.

India and Australia have natural binding of being democratic countries for so long, both understand English language, have a common sport to bond upon and young population in India is choosing Australia as a destination for studies. Though there was scepticism in Australia that they shouldn’t be portrayed as Asian, but now they have understood that inspite of not being Asian, they are part of Asia Pacific region and therefore it is right time to increase economic, strategic, trade and people to people engagement.

Connecting the dots:

  • Can India and Australia be called historical partners? Discuss the connecting bonds between the two nations and their future.

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