C for Cricket, C for Commerce, C for Coking Coal, and C for Community, the 450,000-strong Indian community which is thriving in Australia. Think of India-Australia relations, and these four Cs spring readily to mind. And yes, uranium, the yellow cake, which may just end up being the show-stealer during the September 4-5 visit of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
The India-Australia relations are on a strong wicket, and they are scoring high in every field. In a sign of close and warm relations, India has rolled out the red carpet for Prime Minister Abbott, who has become the first head of government to be hosted by the Narendra Modi government in New Delhi on a standalone bilateral visit.
The focus is predictably on business with capital B. Trade and investment are on an upswing, and are set to climb higher during the ongoing visit of Prime Minister Abbott, who has brought with him around 130 top businessmen who together comprise a hefty portion of Australia’s GDP. The two countries are determined to raise the bar and plan to more than double bilateral trade from A$ 16.50 bn to A$ 40 billion bilateral trade by 2015.
Indian investments in the resources sector in Australia, which has massive reserves of gold, copper and zinc, among other minerals, have climbed to $ 10 billion. The two sides are exploring prospects of collaboration in the resources sector, including in exploration, supply of machinery and of technology. Leading Indian investors in Australia include, among others, Sterlite Industries (copper mines; Aditya Birla Group (copper mines), Asian Paints and Reliance (uranium exploration).
The two sides are negotiating Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) and have already held five rounds of talks. The pact, once concluded, is expected to have a force multiplier effect on trade relations. “The CEOs Forum can play a big role in bringing about business partnerships. We both seek better market access for mutual benefit and to create an environment that is conducive to business and investment,” says Sanjay Bhattacharyya, joint secretary (South) in India’s Ministry of External Affairs.
The highlight of the visit is expected to be the signing of a civil nuclear deal that will clear the decks for the import of uranium by India. The two sides have already held five rounds of productive negotiations, and there is a strong probability that a nuclear safeguards agreement will be signed and sealed during the visit. Australia has the world’s highest reserves of recoverable uranium in the world. The nuclear deal will form a high point in the ongoing transformation of India-Australia relations.
The shifting plates of Asian geopolitics are bringing India and Australia, vibrant, secular multi-cultural democracies, together in a closer strategic embrace. Australia sees India as part of India’s extended neighbourhood. “It is under-appreciated that Perth and Chennai are closer to each other than Sydney is to Seoul, to Shanghai, or to Tokyo,” said Australia’s then Foreign Minister Stephen Smith in a key note address in September 2008 at the University of Western Australia. “…As the world sees the potential of an Asian/Pacific century unfolds, Australia sees India at the heart of this historic shift in political and economic influence,” he said.
Australia supports India’s candidature in an expanded UN Security Council. The Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean are firing their twinned dreams of an Asia-Pacific century or Indo-Pacific century. Members of key multilateral bodies, including the G20, CHOGM, East Asia Summit, Asia Pacific Partnership on Climate and Clean Development, and Indian Ocean Rim Association, India and Australia have forged a truly global partnership. When Prime Minister Abbott comes to India, he will be inviting India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi to visit Brisbane for the G20 summit in November.
Education is a great connector, with around 36,000 Indian students chasing their dreams in diverse colleges and polytechnics across Australia. A majority of them are studying in vocational training institutes. Skill training is an important pillar of the burgeoning education partnership. India has set up a number of Chairs of Indian Studies in Australian Universities, and more are on the way. Australia has also ledged US$ 1 million towards a Chair on Environmental and Ecology Studies at the Nalanda University.
Educational links are reinforced by a robust science and technology partnership. The two sides have set up the Strategic Research Fund, which has proved to be useful for developing joint projects in areas of cutting edge technologies. In this context, India has benefitted a great deal from the water partnership and sharing of experiences and expertise on water basin management.
Moving beyond the realm of geopolitics and strategy, it’s people-to-people bonds that keeps India-Australia relations humming. Cricket madness fires Indians and Australians alike. Iconic cricketers Sachin Tendulkar and Donald Bradman remain enduring bridge-builders between the two countries. Sachin Tendulkar was conferred an honorary member of the Order of Australia promoting India-Australia relations. This time round, there will be a spot of cricket diplomacy, too, with Prime Minister Abbott expected to meet three celebrity cricketers, including Sachin Tendulkar, Adam Gilchrist and Brett Lee. There is a plan to bring Don Bradman memorabilia to India next year. “Cricket will be a very strong bond as we take this relationship forward,” says Bhattacharyya. Besides cricket, the Indian community has been in the forefront of sustaining the momentum in India-Australia relations. The 450,000-strong Indian community is enriching their adopted homeland in their multiple roles as teachers, doctors, accountants, engineers and researchers.
Tourism has kept the flow of people-to-people contacts. Home to some of the most scenic places in the world, Australia attracted 1,73,000 visitors in 2013 and this figure is expected to double by 2020, making India is 11th largest contributor of visitors to Australia. The flow is also strong from the other side: 2,20,000 Australian tourists visited India in 2013.
In the great new game of an unfolding Asia-Pacific century, expect India and Australia to score high, and stretch the boundaries of their multi-faceted partnership. There are no googlies here, only the invigorating joys of a good gentleman’s game.
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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