|Demand of the question
Introduction. Contextual introduction.
Body. Discuss various issues in Indo-Australian relationship. How bilateral relations among two nations can be strengthened?
Conclusion. Way forward.
The India-Australia bilateral relationship has undergone evolution in recent years. The people-to-people ties, increasing Indian students going to Australia for higher education, growing tourism and sporting links, especially Cricket, have played a significant role in strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries. Despite this, the strategic ties between Australia and India keep falling short of expectations.
Various issues in Indo-Australian relationship:
- Economic relations: The trade between the two countries has been at a modest $31 billion, largely composed of resources like coal and other minerals. Negotiations on a freetradeagreement, which began in 2011, have not moved forward significantly. The problems faced by the Adani Group to begin work on a coal mining project in Queensland did not go down too well with investors from India.
- Visa issues: India’s desire for visa reforms in Australia, which would permit more Indian workers to seek employment in Australia, remains unmet. India wants greater free movement and relaxed visa norms for its IT professionals, on which Australia is reluctant. Australia and India are yet to nurture a common bilateral ground to figure out the basis of their cooperation.
- Nuclear power issue: Building consensus on non-nuclear proliferation and disarmament has been a major hurdle given India’s status as a nuclear power. Trade and maritime security on the other hand seem the most viable points of collaboration. Although a defence agreement was signed in 2014, the defence relationship has yet to develop fully.
- Bilateral defence cooperation: Although security has received a lot of significance in the relationship, in practice Australia-India defence cooperation remains relatively undeveloped. There are a considerable number of defence and security dialogues between the two countries, but none has been translated into more substantive cooperation.
- Attacks on Indians: Increasing Racist attacks on Indians in Australia has been a major issue. The relationship was further strained over the attacks on Indian students studying in Melbourne, and the resulting media coverage caused serious damage to Australia’s standing in India.
- Chinese influence: The formation of the Japan–America–India (JAI) partnership at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires in 2018 is cause for Australian concern. India’s unwillingness to invite Australia to participate in the Malabar naval exercise, despite Australian lobbying, has sparked speculation over the fate of the Quadrilateral Consultative Dialogue (the ‘Quad) involving India, Australia, Japan and the United States.
- Energy: Australia is a natural partner for India in the energy sector. By the end of this decade, Australia is expected to overtake Qatar to be the largest exporter of Liquefied Natural Gas according to Energy Quest. Australia’s long-term and secure LNG supply can help diversify India’s current highly concentrated import supplies from the Middle East.
- Science & Technology: India and Australia have a strong track record of collaborating in research and innovation. The $84 million Australia-India Strategic Research Fund (AISRF) is Australia’s largest. The Australian Government’s $1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda presents new opportunities to engage with India. The agenda resonates well with India’s ‘Start-up India’ and ‘Make in India’ campaign.
- Space: The Indian Space Research Organisation has a proud record of space exploration, including recently with its successful Mars Orbiter Mission and launching 104 satellites in one go. India can provide commercial Space applications to Australia for several of its Space initiatives.
- Economic ties: Our economies are highly complementary. But trade is still very narrow. If we are to build depth to our economic relationship, we need to broaden its base. That is why negotiating a CECA will put in place the framework to support the freer flow of particularly services and investment between our countries. For India, CECA would give improved access to the world’s twelfth largest economy.
- Exports in merchandise: The weakest link in India’s exports to Australia is in merchandise. Australia is a brand-conscious market while India has not created a single consumer brand of international acceptance. Indian companies will need to invest a little more in market research on Australian consumer expectations and lifestyles before their products can successfully penetrate the Australian market.
- Security: Regular strategic dialogue should focus on common interests, including relating to China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, terrorism and maritime security. A bilateral security declaration is needed between Australia and India. India should reciprocate Australia’s overtures to engage as a priority maritime partner. The two armies should help each other too, for example in Special Forces training.
Although there are strategic divergences in the Australia–India relationship, there are more common interests. The time has come for an honest appraisal of these divergences and introspection regarding how to build a stronger bilateral strategic relationship. Last year the Australian government released an India Economic Strategy that comprehensively laid out the weaknesses of the economic relationship and identified pathways to push it forward. Similar initiatives aimed at evaluating and advancing the geopolitical relationship are needed.