[UPSC Mains Focus] Canberra connect


June 6, 2020 | Indian Express (Link)

Mains Paper 2: International Relations

Prelims level: RCEP

Mains level: Areas of cooperation between India and Australia


Context:

  • Australia has loomed large in modern India’s consciousness — as the land of cricket champions.
  • There was little else binding the two nations during the 20th century despite the shared English language and common political values.

Steady improvement:

  • Over the last decade, though, there has been a steady improvement in the quality and intensity of the political, commercial, cultural, educational and technological engagement.
  • This was reinforced by the Indian diaspora, now 7,00,000 strong in a nation of just 25 million and the fastest growing ethnic minority.
  • PM Modi’s visit to Australia in 2014 signalled Delhi’s new commitment to end the prolonged political indifference towards Canberra.
  • The virtual summit between Modi and the Australian PM, Scott Morrison, this week has taken some big steps to elevate the strategic partnership.

Defence and security cooperation:

  • It was no surprise that defence and security cooperation have been at the core of the outcomes from the deliberations between the two leaders.
  • The muscular assertiveness of a rising China and the uncertain trajectory of America are compelling most Asian middle powers to insure against the new dangers by enhancing mutual cooperation.
  • Both India and Australia have been stepping up their strategic collaboration with other key nations in the region, including Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Bilateral security cooperation:

  • It was a matter of time before Delhi and Canberra elevated their own bilateral security cooperation in response to a rapidly changing regional environment.
  • A major highlight of the summit meeting was the declaration on the shared vision for securing the troubled waters of the Indo-Pacific.
  • This vision was reinforced by a mutual logistics support agreement.
  • The agreement offers the armed forces of the two nations reciprocal access to each other’s military facilities and facilitates seamless cooperation across the high seas.
  • Equally significant was a third agreement for cooperation in cyber and cyber-enabled critical technology domains.

Strategic convergence:

  • If Delhi and Canberra were ranged on opposite sides of the Asian strategic divide during the 20th century, this week’s summit highlights the strategic convergence between them in the 21st century.
  • While the focus on security is both necessary and urgent, there is no escaping the big gap between the two leaders on regional trade agreements.
  • While Modi’s India has turned its back on the RCEP — an Asia-wide trade pact — Morrison is a strong supporter.
  • The two leaders did agree to renew stalled negotiations on bilateral trade.
  • India has declared its interest in negotiating bilateral trade with a number of like-minded countries like the US and Europe.
  • But Delhi’s inability to wrap up any new bilateral trade negotiation casts a dark shadow over its vigorous security diplomacy.

Conclusion:

  • The failure to rejuvenate the domestic economy, confusing political rhetoric on self-reliance, and ambivalent trade posture now threaten to undermine the possibilities for expanding the arc of India’s strategic partnerships across the Indo-Pacific and beyond.