The recent visit of PM Modi to Australia from May 22-24 as part of his three nations tour was significant in many ways. The visit was not only attracting the interest of friendly capitals it was also under the watchful eyes of other regional players. India’s relations with Australia goes back to pre-independence period in 1941, when the trade office of Consulate General of India was opened in Sydney. Australia holds tremendous significance as world’s 13th largest economy, it accounts for World’s 1.7% of trade, as member of G20 and also by it’s geostrategic location. Which makes it an ideal actor with incredible access to vitally important Pacific and Oceania region. This potentially makes Australia a great influencer in balancing the global access in these contested regions. The confluence of Pacific and Indian ocean, proximity of it’s Northern territory with major shipping lines, along with emergence of new challenges among PICs makes Australia a centrepiece of interest on matters pertaining to security, environment and trade links. The region has so far remained focussed on internal coordination. However, off late with purposeful inroads for influence in neighbourhood with initiatives like BRI in Cooks and Niue islands it has started gaining attention and prominence. The attempt to manipulate internal polity of some of the smaller nations like Solomon Island in the PIC by regional heavy weights has not gone unnoticed. There has been rising concern among other nations of such political manipulations shrouded in economic prosperity for gaining a tactical foothold.
Australia has for long focussed on it’s internal development and regional linkages. The approach has worked for Canberra as it can pride itself of being among first few developed nations. It has also enhanced economic affluence and opportunities for it’s people. Australia is one of the most globalised countries in the world and 2nd in Asia Pacific and 9th largest per capita GDP wise at $68,000 USD in the world. It has ticked high on all human indices of living standards. With a prosperous state and a democracy to boot, Canberra has held a shining example of how democratic nations can harness greater fortune for it’s people. The advent of COVID pandemic has however posed serious challenge to Australia and it’s booming trade. It also proved to be a watershed period of introspection at Canberra about it’s future trajectory. The stance taken by Australia of calling out for investigation to identify origins of the deadly virus, which was largely suspected to be from China has swindled their mutual relations badly. But to the credit of Canberra, it didn’t baulk out and maintained it’s consistent views on global handling of COVID emergence while being an active part of finding mitigation measures.
A New Trajectory
These challenges together fuelled a national debate in Australia about it’s future trajectory. It was the time Australia sensed that a prosperous economy has to be coupled with an equally active diplomatic and defence participation. That only trade relations will not work for securing national priorities and freedom of choices. The realities of global governance were somewhat more challenging that what was understood till then. Australia needed to realise it’s true potential and be heard for it’s concerns, commensurate to it’s participation in the global order. Australia has since then taken other complimentary steps to enhance it’s security outlay in order to respond to newer challenges. It also has made concerted efforts to better connect with other major powers like India. Indo-Canberra relations have been based on a solid foundation. India is the 11th largest import partner and 6th largest export partner for Australia. The comprehensive trade deal under consideration will enable mutual trade to surpass $100 billion USD. The people to people connect is another big plus between these two countries. As per the Australian Bureau of Statistics there are approximately 8 lakh people of Indian origin residing in Australia and effectively contributing to it’s developmental goals. There has been close contact between armed forces of the two countries with India Australia holding joint military exercises Ex Pitch Black, AUSINDEX, Ex Austra-Hind and the powerful Malabar Exercise planned in the East Coast of Australia in Aug this year alongwith navies of other QUAD partners. The strong defence cooperation has been made possible by numerous initiatives undertaken like; Memorandum on Defence Cooperation in 2006; Joint Declaration on Security Co-operation in 2009, Bilateral Framework for Security Cooperation in 2014, Mutual Logistic Support Arrangement (MLSA) and The Defence Science and Technology Implementing Arrangement (DISTA) in 2020. India and Australia upgraded their relationship manifold with signing of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in Jun 2020. Australia also has the privileged conversation of 2+2 ministerial level dialogue with India. It’s only the fourth country to have such a unique arrangement apart from US, Russia and Japan. These are strong testimony of the immense value both countries attach to each other. It has indeed boosted up the profile of mutual relationship by several notches.
What is remarkable is that India and Australia hold great potential for an uninterrupted upswing in mutual relationship. The regional challenges apart the complementarity of their geostrategic positioning is unmistakable. While India holds great significance as the power of choice in Indian Ocean, Australia has similar significance in the Pacific. The booming economies of both these countries offer bigger opportunities of investments and connectivity. Both have shared concerns on mega issues like the realignment of global supply chain, advent of new technologies and collective approach towards environmental challenges. India and Australia find themselves on the same page and voicing similar concerns. As Australia redefines itself for effectively contributing towards global concerns of countering hegemonistic and predatory approaches, it will find India standing together side by side as a strong and unwavering partner. Delhi Canberra relation is already based on a very strong foundation of mutual trust, reciprocal respect and democratic values. India also acknowledges the space it’s PM has been given in Australia. Whether, it’s community interaction, his engagements across the political spectrum or the diplomatic niceties of PM Albanese referring PM Modi as ‘The Boss’, in context of the crowd turnup at the Sydney event. Indo-Australian relationship has gained strength and momentum over relatively shorter time frame. This strength has to be further built upon and the relationship be given the wings now. Both countries are now suitably poised to step into a shared future with great hope, better opportunities and being a pillar of strength for each other.
(This article has featured in a National Magazine!)