India and Australia have agreed to deepen their strategic ties by deciding to establish a Framework for Security Cooperation, with its most substantive element being the deepening of defence and security cooperation. The decision’s clearly been taken keeping in mind the elephant in the room, China.
The security framework was the most significant outcome of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bilateral visit to Australia during which Canberra rolled out the red carpet for the first Indian head of government to visit the country in 28 years.
However, in what appeared to be a careful attempt not to ruffle Beijing’s feather — President Xi Jinping was in the country too after participating in the G-20 Summi — there were reports in the Australian media that the framework was ostensibly confirmed only after the Chinese leader had left for Tasmania.
That the Modi government was out to assiduously woo Australia was evident in the speech made by Mr Modi to the Australian Parliament on November 18. “I see Australia as a major partner in every area of our national priority,” remarked Mr Modi. He further observed, “We also see Australia as a vital partner in India’s quest for peace and prosperity. There are few countries in the world where we see so much synergy as we do in Australia.”
The prime minister also found yet another India-Australia “link”, this time in his speech before Parliament. He recalled that over 150 years ago, it was Australian novelist and lawyer John Lang who had fought the legal battle for the famous queen of Jhansi, Rani Laxmibai against the East India Company.
With Australia also being an important element in India’s quest for energy security, the two sides also agreed to “expedite progress towards an early conclusion of the administrative arrangements to implement the civil nuclear agreement” following bilateral talks.
Once the arrangements are in place, Australia, with about 40 per cent of the world’s known uranium reserves, will begin supplying it to energy-starved India for generating nuclear power.
The economic aspect of the relationship, too, came in for focus during the bilateral discussions between Mr Modi and his Australian counterpart, Tony Abbott. It found reflection in the joint statement that said that the two leaders directed that there be early conclusion of the negotiations on a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) between the two countries.
While India and Australia inked five pacts — on social security, transfer of sentenced prisoners, combating narcotics trade, tourism, and arts and culture — the Framework is the most substantive outcome of Mr Modi’s Australia visit.
The joint statement at the end of the bilateral meeting said the two sides have agreed to hold regular meetings at the level of the defence ministers, conduct regular maritime exercises and convene regular staff talks between their army, navy and airforce.
The decision on the all-embracing security pact comes as no surprise given that India is often referred to as an emerging key strategic partner of Australia. Both New Delhi and Canberra have converging concerns about growing Chinese might in the Asia-Pacific region.
The framework is to be implemented on the basis of an Action Plan that will include an annual summit between the Prime Ministers of the two countries and a Foreign Ministers’ Framework Dialogue.
The growing warmth in strategic ties also found reflection in remarks made by Mr Modi to the media in Canberra. “This is a natural partnership arising from out shared values and interests and our strategic maritime locations.”
The Chinese muscle-flexing in the South China Sea found an oblique reference in the Prime Minister’s address to the Australian Parliament to wherein he said: “We should collaborate more on maintaining maritime security. We should work together on the seas and collaborate in international forums. And we should work for universal respect for international law and global norms.”
As India and Australia work to deepen bilateral relations, the economic aspect will be one of the key pillars. Mr Modi himself spoke about the “great economic synergy” between the two countries and the “huge opportunties for partnership” in areas like energy, agriculture, finance, infrastructure, education and science and technology.
The prime minister also continued with his pitch made earlier before a gathering of Australian economic leaders in Brisbane to do business with India. Asserting that “the economic climate in India has changed”, Mr Modi told the media after the bilateral meet, “it will be a lot easier to convert opportunities into concrete outcomes”.
At present,the two-way trade is just about $15 billion a year compared with the 150 billion US dollars bilateral trade between Australia’s and China.
Using the first name, the Australian prime minister clearly managed to forge a personal rapport with India’s new prime miniter: “ Narendra and I spent quite some time this morning talking about what we need to do to really crank up the trade relationship”. He added, “Trade means jobs, trade means prosperity, we both need more jobs and prosperity,”
As part of their attempt to impart a fillip to economic ties, India and Australia have also decided to reconstitute the Australia-India CEO Forum.
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