Red carpet for Modi as Australia warms up
by Ashok B Sharma on 20 Oct 2014 0 Comment

Relations between India and Australia in the Asia-Pacific region seem to be warming up. After Tony Abbott’s recent visit to India, it is now Australia’s turn to lay the red carpet for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he visits the country for G20 summit in Brisbane in the middle of next month.


Mr Modi will be the first Indian prime minister to visit Australia since Rajiv Gandhi went to see Mr Bob Hawke in 1986. He will be among the few world leaders to address the joint session of the federal parliament, joining the ranks of Chinese President Xi Jinping and British Prime Minister David Cameron. Former Chinese President Hu Jintao addressed the Australian parliament in 2003 and so did the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. But this will be the first such honour for an Indian Prime Minister, which is recognition of India.


But Australia is equally conscious of keeping China in good humour. It declined to join the India-US-Japan Trilateral, which is being upgraded to the level of foreign ministers, at the instance of China. But Mr Abbott has agreed for a first bilateral naval exercise with India, scheduled in 2015. Both countries will join to commemorate 100 years of the First World War in which soldiers of both countries fought side by side.


Australia has supported India’s full membership of four international export control regimes – Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Regime, Wassenaar Agreement and Australia Group and also membership of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).


Australia has assured to be a long-term uranium supplier to India and cooperate in production of radio isotopes and nuclear safety. Mr Abbott termed this nuke handshake as “a sign of the mutual trust and confidence that our two countries have in each other” 


Mr Abbott is appreciative of India’s Look East Policy and has recognised the importance of India as a “valuable partner” in Asia-Pacific region. He has lauded Mr Modi’s recent visit to Japan as “successful”. He toasted the geopolitical importance of Asia-Pacific, “So as economic weight shifts to the Indo-Pacific region, the strategic balance moves too.”


Though Mr Abbott is conscious of the importance of the Asia-Pacific region, it is ready to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit over Russia’s alleged role in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines MH17, in which 38 Australians lost their lives.


Along with the US, Russia is a key player in the region. The relationship between NATO powers and Russia has turned sour over the latter taking over Crimea. The shooting down of Malaysian Airlines MH17 has added to the problem. Mr Putin’s assertive nature is not much appreciated by the West. Kiev and the West have accused Moscow-backed separatists of shooting down the plane with a surface-to-air BUK missile supplied by Russia. Moscow denies the charge and has pointed the finger back at Kiev. Australia has demanded that Russia cooperate with the criminal investigation and help in bringing the culprits to justice.


Australia was initially reluctant about Mr Putin attending the G20, but member nations indicated that he should, in order to address the geo-political tensions. At home Mr Abbott faces strong opposition to Mr Putin’s visit from the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten who has reiterated his stance that he did not want the Russian leader in the country. The issue needs to be resolved in the interests of Asia-Pacific region. The ball is now in Australia’s court.


There are obvious reasons why Australia needs India more. India is already Australia’s fifth-largest export market. Australia wants the bilateral trade to grow to its full potential which is now stagnating at $15 billion. It is eager to conclude negotiations on the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) with India by 2016 which would boost bilateral trade and investment.  At present Indian investment in Australia is about $11 billion whereas Australian investment in India is $600 million. Australia sees massive opportunity for investments in India with Mr Modi’s call for “Make in India”.


India too is interested in investing in resource rich Australia. Leading Indian investors like Sterlite Industries and Aditya Birla group are in copper mines while Asian Paints and Reliance are in uranium exploration. Australia has massive reserves of uranium, gold, copper, zinc and other minerals. Australian coal feeds power plants in India. Australian coal, iron ore and gas has powered the economic transformation of Japan, Korea and China.


Australia had worked over three decades to boost its bilateral trade with China to the level of $150 billion. While consolidating its gains with China, Australia wants to tap the untapped potential in India. Both Australia and India are looking forward for finalisation of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in the Indo-Pacific region.  Currently, Australia is the chair of Indian Ocean Rim Association. The region is important and concerns for maritime security remain vital as trade grows. 


Australia has come to the rescue of Mr Modi’s dream project of cleaning river Ganga by signing an agreement on water management. Human resources development is an area of India’s interest. There is a 450,000-strong Indian community in Australia and 36,000 Indian students are pursuing studies in that country, particularly in vocational education. India and Australia have also agreed for cooperation in vocational education and training. Australia’s New Colombo Plan will now facilitate Australian students to pursue studies in India.


During Mr Abbott’s visit an MoU was between the two countries for cooperation in sports will promote exchange programmes, sharing of experiences, particularly in cricket which interests both countries.


Mr Modi’s forthcoming visit to Australia is likely to be significant. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh missed the bus to Australia by declining to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth hosted by Ms Julia Gillard in 2011, which many analysts believed was because the Labor government reversed Mr John Howard’s decision to allow uranium exports to India. Earlier, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee declined to attend the CHOGM meeting hosted by Mr Howard in Coolum in 2002, which many viewed as a consequence of Canberra overreacting to India’s nuclear tests in 1998.

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