Apart from a colonial past, India and Australia share many civil and political institutions as well as democratic values. With bilateral trade crossing $19 billion in 2011-2012, Australia is also India’s eighth largest trading partner. Despite the commonalities, the two countries have long operated in largely separate strategic spheres. With India now emerging as a significant strategic player in the Pacific, it views Australia as an important security partner in the Asia-Pacific region.
Gateway House’s Shai Venkatraman talks to Patrick Suckling, Australian High Commissioner to India, about the current state of the bilateral and the role the Indian diaspora can play in strengthening the engagement between the two countries.
Q. How would you characterise the current state of the India-Australia strategic relationship?
The relationship between India and Australia is definitely stronger for a variety of reasons. Principally, on the economic front, we have a lot to trade with each other and invest in each other by tapping the bright spectrum of activity, particularly resources, which is critical to India’s development and economic growth. Australia has a lot of resources to fuel the growth. India investing in Australia’s resources centre is fuelling our growth and prosperity, so it’s a win-win strategic relationship. We have education, infrastructure, agriculture, and IT based on a strong economic relationship as well as a growing strategic and security partnership. There are also strong people-to-people links as well, with over 400,000 people of Indian origin living in Australia, with Indian students forming the second largest group of international students.
Q. What role can the Indian diaspora play in the bilateral relationship?
The Indian diaspora is highly strong, tolerant and multiethnic. They are very good at building bridges between India and Australia, be it in business or culture. There is a lot of activity on the artistic, academic, science and technology fronts.
Q. What is the present state of negotiations on the proposed sale of Australian uranium to India?
The negotiations are actually going well. Prime Minister Abbot said that he is committed to the early conclusion of those negotiations. We had three rounds in 2013. The fourth round is currently going on in Australia. Both sides have demonstrated a lot of goodwill, flexibility and commitment towards finishing the negotiations as soon as possible. That will soon transform the grounds for Australia and India.
Q. The navies of Australia and India recently participated in the multi-nation naval exercise in MILAN. In your view, how can India and Australia take forward their naval engagement?
The Indian Ocean is the most dynamic part of the world economically. The Pacific Ocean is also very important because the strategic calculus is changing in the Indian Ocean. So we now talk about the Indo-Pacific recognising India’s growing importance as well. In that context, the role of our navies in providing continuous security and stability in both the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean is very crucial. The regular bilateral navy exercise, which will commence in 2015, is a terrific start. Our navies are no longer just talking about sheer strategic doctrine dialogue and we think that’s the way to go.
Patrick Suckling has been the High Commissioner to India since January 2013. His previous overseas assignments include Washington (2003-2007) and New Delhi (1997-1999).
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