India and Australia have a common approach to a free, open, inclusive and prosperous Indo – Pacific which guarantees freedom of navigation and overflights in the interest of unimpeded commerce and a rules-based order.
By Anil Wadhwa
Forced by a pandemic, the Prime Ministers of the two geo – economic pillars in the Indo – Pacific, India and Australia are meeting in a long awaited “virtual” Summit on 4 June. The Indo – Australian bilateral relationship has evolved in multiple vectors over the past few years. Even as their interests haverapidly converged on a growing bilateral, regional and multilateral agenda, collaboration between the two countries has been bolstered through the personal chemistry between Prime Ministers Modi and Morrison, the support for the informal grouping of the Quad, the shared vision of the Indo – Pacific, common values of democracy and rule of law. Australia is an ideal strategic partner for India in its journey to achieve adequately high growth for its large and growing population, and for meeting the challenges of rapid urbanization, infrastructure development and water resources. Australian natural resources, technology and high-end manufacturing require a market like India.
India and Australia have a common approach to a free, open, inclusive and prosperous Indo – Pacific which guarantees freedom of navigation and overflights in the interest of unimpeded commerce and a rules-based order. The last few years have seen a quantum jump in the defence exchanges between the two countries. Both countries are ready to sign a Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) for reciprocal access to each other’s ports and facilities – which will enhance interoperability, and above all, allow both countries to access the resources of the other in the Indian as well as the Pacific oceans which connect them. The enhanced cooperation between the Indian army, navy and air force through a series of bilateral and multilateral exercises has set the stage for Australia to be invited to the Malabar exercises which India conducts with USA and Japan.
The rise in connectivity, digital transactions, volume and nature of personal data has increased the vulnerability of countries to cybercrime and both countries see the need for stricter cyber security measures. A framework for operational collaboration on Cyber security between the two countries already exists. Australia’s telecommunications sector reform, and approach to 5 G has evoked interest in India. Both sides will look to strengthen each other’s capabilities through a forward-looking agreement in this area.
Australia has reserves of 21 out of 49 minerals identified by India’s critical minerals strategy. Many rare earths are required in manufacturing processes of electric motors, lithium ion batteries, magnets and other end use products as well as for India’s e-mobility programme. Australia can also collaborate with India to process rare earth minerals at Indian locations. A long-standing supply and investment relation ship between the two countries in the area of critical minerals is required.
The Australia India strategic Reserve Fund (AISRF) is an example of a successful research fund set up between the two countries which has seen joint funding for a number of successful projects in areas of live sciences, biotechnology, and genetics etc. The Covid -19 pandemic has highlighted the need for both countries to strengthen their research and development exchanges, and to provide support for the health sector in both countries. In April 2020, Australia’s Griffith University and Hyderabad based Indian Immunological ltd have already started work on developing a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. A similar collaboration in innovative agritech solutions, cuttingedge defence and mining technologies, medical technologies between the two countries is today seen as beneficial by both sides. Scientific and technological collaborative ideas therefore should be given a more concrete shape during the virtual Summit.
India’s large, young population and the target of training 400 million people by 2022 has thrown open a host of opportunities for the Australian Vocational Education System. The collaboration with Australian agencies can be extended across enhancement of training curriculum, aligning Indian accreditation and assessment to global standards, improving trainer quality and conducting joint training workshops. A new collaborative agreement on water resources management, training and education, and for developing sustainable solutions for water and economic development and water recycling will also be a beneficial area of collaboration.
Besides discussing challenges in the new global scenario, both sides will look at ways in which the economic engagement can be taken forward. Australia will impress upon the importance of India to rejoin the RCEP negotiations and respond to an invitation extended to India in April 2020. Indian and Australia should also revive their bilateral negotiations of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA). The 700,000 strong Indian diaspora in Australia and close to 110,000 students studying in the country will drive this relationship forward. Resources, technology and services, and research and innovation and the three drivers of the future India – Australia relationship – a potentially strong partnership whose time has come.
(The author is former Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs. Views expressed are personal. )