Three Cs in India-Australia ties

This is a take-off from the old three Cs of India-Australia cooperation which were said to be curry, cricket, and commerce.

Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar completed his second visit to Australia a few days ago this year. By all counts, it was a successful visit, a chance to reaffirm ties with a major Indo-Pacific democracy with which India has agreed on a historic trade deal, the Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA).

The resilience of the India-Australia partnership has been underlined in the recent past because the two partners took significantly varying points of view on the war in Ukraine but accommodated a respectful position of understanding.

Jaishankar said during the visit that the bilateral relationship between the two countries, which are also part of the four-member Indo-Pacific grouping, the Quad, and the US and Japan, is based on three Cs—Covid, conflict, and climate change. This is a take-off from the old three Cs of India-Australia cooperation which were said to be curry, cricket, and commerce. While commerce and trade remain a vital link between the two countries—as do cricket and curry—the Indian foreign minister was making an important point about the deep strategic outlook and turn that relations between the two countries have taken in recent years.

India and Australia cooperated closely during the pandemic, with Australia recognising both the Covishield vaccine manufactured in India and India’s indigenous vaccine Covaxin. The two countries have worked to strengthen trade ties in a post-pandemic world. The ECTA deal provides supply chain support in critical minerals from Australia to India, even as it opens greater opportunities for Indian medicines and pharmaceutical products to go to the Australian market.

Australia has reserves of at least 21 of the 49 critical minerals identified by India (many of these are necessary for the growth and development of India’s important digital economy) and can play an integral role in strengthening India’s supply chains. Australia can potentially be one of the top suppliers of cobalt and zircon to India, being in the top three for the global production of these minerals. Australia also has reserves to supply many other critical minerals to India, including antimony, lithium, rare earth elements and tantalum.

On conflict, India and Australia elevated their relationship to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, thereby agreeing to deepen and broaden the scope and complexity of the military exercises they jointly participate in, and “increase military inter-operability through defence exercises through their arrangement concerning Mutual Logistics Support (MLSA)”. Since 2014, defence-related engagement between the two countries has increased around four-fold.

It is noteworthy that India worked to ensure that a Chinese resolution at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) against the Australia, United Kingdom, and the United States (AUKUS) grouping providing nuclear-powered submarines to Australia was stopped. India’s diplomatic channels ensured support against the resolution from many smaller countries, forcing the Chinese side to withdraw from the resolution.

Apart from the prominent Malabar naval exercises, the two countries have participated in 10 bilateral and 17 multilateral exercises involving their armed forces. After the recent election, India was one of the first countries visited by Australia’s new Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles. In contrast, Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar has already visited Australia twice this year.

This defence and military engagement is critical because the two countries are aligning their vision and resources in promoting a democratic Indian Ocean region and Indo-Pacific, i.e., their collaboration is aimed at ensuring that there is significant pushback on Chinese revisionism in the region at a bilateral level, above and beyond the cooperation between the partners of the Quad.

On climate change, the two countries signed a Letter of Intent on new and renewable energy technology earlier this year which is aimed at focusing on a wide range of projects, including the manufacture and deployment of ultra-low-cost solar and clean hydrogen energy projects.

This adds to a new age of cooperation between India and Australia. There is a deep recognition that the two countries have much to offer to one another and are, in a sense, responsible for keeping the Indo-Pacific free from authoritarian influences and democratic as India completes its nuclear triad with the successful ballistic missile testing from the INS Arihant, its nuclear-powered submarine, and the acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines by Australia in the coming years.

There is also increasing investment in the next generation of people-to-people contact between Australia and India. The Australia-India Youth Dialogue is a notable success as one of the best-known ‘under-40’ dialogues between young leaders in the democratic world. It is certainly one of the best such programmes between India and a major economy. More achievements are sure to come in this area as Australia has launched the $11 million Maitri Scholarships scheme which is in line with Britain’s Chevening Scholarships and the Fulbright programme of America. This will create new generations of fine young scholars who would get an opportunity to be trained in Australia and thus build deeper ties between the two countries.

If it continues to grow at this scorching pace, the India-Australia relationship is set to become one of the most important diplomatic engagements for both countries. There is scope, vision, and, importantly, bipartisan agreement in both countries about the importance of this relationship. Jaishankar has underlined Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of a safe and secure Indian Ocean and highlighted that the partnership with Australia would be key in ensuring the implementation of this vision.

Hindol Sengupta

Chief Economic Research Officer at Invest India, national investment promotion agency of GOI


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