Beyond ‘khichdi’ and ‘samosa’ — a former diplomat explains why four agreements will take India and Australia ties to the next level
Press Information Bureau
- In an exclusive interview with Business Insider,
former diplomatand Gateway House fellow, Rajiv Bhatia, said the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and three supporting agreements will be key in taking India’s relationship with Australia to the next level.
- The defence agreements will be key in countering China’s assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific, the cooperation in the field of mining will be the economic pillar of the relationship.
- The first-ever virtual summit between India and Australia concluded with nine agreements on the table — four of which set new standards for the relationship between the two countries.
The relationship between India and Australia had already been inching closer with interactions between India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison becoming more frequent before the coronavirus pandemic.
Although the two were unable to meet face to face, they held their first virtual summit on Thursday, June 4. As a result of the summit, India and Australia finalised nine agreements — of which four stand out, according to former diplomat Rajiv Bhatia.
“These four agreements indicate that the relationship is not just about khichdi and samosas. There was a substantive outcome,” he told Business Insider in an exclusive interview citing the joint statement on a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, joint declaration on a Shared Vision for Maritime Cooperation, arrangement concerning Mutual Logistics Support (MLSA) and the memorandum of understanding (MoU) on cooperation in the field of mining and processing of critical and strategic materials.
Adding meat to the India-Australia relationship
The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership that has been struck between India and Australia marks the beginning of a new chapter between the two countries. “All countries are important to India, but not all countries are equally important. There are gradations. When interests pull them together you start putting more meat on the relationship,” Bhatia explained.
The higher level of relationship between India and Australia now means it could cover all possible aspects of bilateral interactions and there will be a special focus on defence and security matters. “When you bring together defence and strategic affairs, you’re taking a more strategic view of the relationship,” said Bhatia.
One example of how the relationship has elevated is that there will now be 2+2 ministerial-level consultations regularly between India and Australia. The Foreign Ministers and Defence Ministers of both countries will now sit together and discuss the strategic environment. “This is a special feature. Whenever you have a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership this comes in,” Bhatia told Business Insider.
Australia joins the club alongside Indonesia, Japan and the US to counter China’s assertion
India already has maritime cooperation agreements in place with Indonesia, Japan and the US when it comes to the Indo-Pacific. “You can see that Australia was slightly outside this arc, now it has been brought into this special club,” said Bhatia.
A common narrative on both sides of the aisle has been the need for an ‘open, free and rules-based’ Indo-Pacific region. “The very fundamental decision of raising the level of relationship to a Strategic Comprehensive Partnership is the common response of these two countries to the challenges that exist in the Indo-Pacific essentially caused by the new assertiveness that we’re seeing by China, which was there before COVID-19 began and it has gone up during the course of the pandemic,” explained Bhatia.
He believes that the new level of relationship is a signal that’s going all to all the countries in the region that they prefer an inclusive region of mutual prosperity and security. “But, if a major country is not willing to play ball, then others have to start deepening their cooperation for their mutual goals,” decoded Bhatia.
Australia could be the newest participant in the Malabar Naval Exercises
The arrangement concerning Mutual Logistics Support (MLSA) between Australia and India means that the two countries will now be hand-in-hand when it comes to their defence forces — the army, airforce and navy. “They have different standard operating procedures (SOPs), telecommunication equipment, weaponry and so on. An agreement of this kind allows them to start consulting each other and coordinating with each other,” elucidated Bhatia.
“What isn’t mentioned here, but may have agreed upon and will come out slowly, is the Malabar Naval Exercises. So far, there were only three countries who participated — the US, India and Japan. Now Australia may also be invited to this,” he added.
A new economic pillar between India and Australia
MoU on cooperation in the field of mining and processing of critical and strategic materials is also a big get for India. “Australia, as you know, is a big treasure house of all kinds of minerals which a developing economy like India needs. It will strengthen the economic pillar of the relationship,” explained Bhatia.
Australia is the world’s leading producers of aluminium ore, iron ore, lithium, gold, lead, diamonds, rare earth elements, uranium and zinc. It also has large mineral sand deposits of ilmenite, zircon and rutile.
Bhatia believes that the virtual summit and the agreements signed between India and Australia go beyond just trade and investment. Global supply lines, tech cooperation and getting India Inc to work alongside Australia Inc were also key topics of discussion. Defence agreements may have been the highlights, but people to people relationships will also have an expressed importance going forward.
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