Context: India and Australia have largely been known as cricket rivals, but are transitioning rapidly to becoming natural partners. The recent signing of the India-Australia Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement is yet another significant step in the rapid deepening of the bilateral relationship.
Not only have the top leaders of India and Australia been meeting extremely regularly, the Indian Prime Minister has termed the signing of the ECTA with Australia as a ‘watershed moment’, as it represents a complete transformation of the bilateral relationship.
What are the key dimensions of the transformed Indo-Aus bilateral relationship?
1] Membership of QUAD: India and Australia are members of the Quad, along with Japan and the US.
While India has had independently strong and substantial economic ties with Japan and the US, no such economic pillar underlay the relationship between India and Australia. As members of the Quad, it was clearly important for India and Australia to change that. And it was driven, by most accounts, by the backing of the leadership at the highest levels of both countries. That is indicative of the strategic nature of the ECTA.
Moreover, as Quad is not a military alliance, that means it has to be an economic and technological one. Therefore, ECTA is an important step in that direction.
2] Increasing importance of Australia: Australia is becoming much more important on the global stage than it previously was. For instance:
– In September 2021, US President Joe Biden had said, “the United States has no closer or more reliable ally than Australia.”
Australia has emerged as an important player on the global stage today for various reasons.
– It is strategically located in the Indo-Pacific from the US perspective. If any conflict were to occur over the Taiwan Strait, the presence of a close, reliable ally in the south of the region would be the perfect complement to the presence of a close, reliable ally in the north (that is, Japan).
– In the Indo-Pacific, Australia is now positioned the way UK is for US in Europe. This also explains the creation of the newest military alliance in the region: AUKUS.
3]. Australia’s Rare earth reserves: Australia also has massive reserves of rare earths, which are critical elements in the global supply chain for semiconductors.
As the US decouples itself (to whatever extent possible) from China, one of the costs it has to bear is the loss of access to China’s largest reserves of rare earths. Therefore, the US and like-minded nations need access to Australia’s reserves to ensure a global semiconductor supply chain devoid of China.
That is one of the main technological dimensions of the growing closeness between India and Australia as well.
– India is attempting to build its own semiconductor industry, and it realises that ultimately, it will need access to a secure, reliable source of rare earths. And clearly, Chinia cannot be relied upon for that. Australia is the perfect partner instead.
4]. Cooperation on cybersecurity and intelligence sharing are likely to be key focus areas as well, as is the easy flow of talent, given the large number of Indian students studying in Australia.
Strategically, Australia and India will need to come even closer if they are to form the eastern and western flanks of an open, free, stable and multipolar IndoPacific region.
Source: This post is based on the article “From Cricket Rivals To Natural Partners” published in The Times of India on 15th Apr 22.