India-Australia relations accelerated to multisectoral engagements in the recent years with a focus to cement cooperation through tangible commitments. This partnership is crucial in the regional security and stability architecture of the Indo-Pacific as well as to counter China’s overtures in the region. However, given an emergent China-Russia power axis in the context of the Ukraine intervention, India’s reluctance to publicly condemn Russia, and, over and above that, our decision to buy Russian oil using the rupee-rouble system were deemed counterintuitive to the shared values of the two democracies. As partners of political, economic and strategic caliber in an increasingly fractured world along the ideological fault lines,  Indo-Australian relations merit examination in terms of strategies for continuities and building synergies.

Firstly, diversifying and augmenting commercial ties would enable sustained levels of cooperation between the two countries. Currently, our bilateral trade which stands at $27 billion is expected to double to $50 billion over the next five years through the Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA) signed last week. The multisectoral trade pact provides duty free access to a large range of products and liberalises visa regimes for trade in services. The FTA was finalised in a fast track manner with specific sections dedicated to sanitary and phytosanitary measures, technical barriers to trade and rules of origin which are points of contention in multilateral and bilateral trade negotiations with other partners.

Bilaterally, the ECTA is considered one of the first stages to further harness complementary nature of the two economies through diverse areas of engagement such as critical minerals, tourism, research, agri-tech, investment in infrastructure, education and startups. Besides, given the predominance of the maritime sector in their individual foreign policy strategies, India and Australia could focus on enhancing direct shipping connectivity giving fillip to not just trade and commercial activities but also enhanced people to people contact.

Secondly, the security question in the Indo-Pacific region takes precedence in the backdrop of Chinese support for Russia in the Ukraine crisis, and its coercion of Pacific Island nations. India and Australia promote a free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific as stakeholders of the region through multilateral engagements such as QUAD, Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI), and Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI). Our bilateral security cooperation through military exercises and Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) could be building steps to become collective net security providers in the Indo Pacific. Our partnership in critical technology and cybersecurity is significant in contributing to the overall stability and prosperity of the Indo Pacific.

Thirdly, the shifting nature of our foreign policy orientation from non-alignment to multi-alignment has to be communicated as a balancing act in line with our national interest. Reinforcing ties with partners while maintaining strategic autonomy is the core of 21st century Indian foreign policy architecture. Indian diplomacy and tracks have a significant role to play here, strengthening ties with not just foreign governments but think tanks, academia and agencies at home and abroad.

Operationalising this commitment with respect to the Ukraine crisis presents India with both a challenge and opportunity. India, currently sought out by both camps of the international order, could play an active role in post-war peacebuilding in Ukraine. Building our credibility as a neutral and pacifying nation can be leveraged by engaging in peace talks in our neighbourhood, particularly in the case of Afghanistan, an opportunity we missed out to China earlier. Such an outlook could be an asset in turning the world opinion in our favour when we are facing a dearth thereof after our abstention from voting against Russia in the UN Security Council.

Finally, India must bear in mind that long term security in the current shifting global order, where globalisation is increasingly weaponised, can only come from diversifying supply chains and eventually attaining self-sufficiency. Therefore, it is in the long term interest of India to work closely with partners like Australia towards common domains of interests such as science and technology, trade and commerce, and maritime security, as a step closer to attaining self-reliance in an increasingly fractured and de-globalising world.

Image source: BBC

Sharon Susan Koshy is a Research Associate at Centre for Public Policy Research. Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research. 

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Sharon Susan Koshy is a Research Associate at Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR). She completed her Masters in IR and Political Science from Central University of Kerala, and MPhil in Political Science from the University of Hyderabad. For her MPhil thesis, she explored the themes of state and feminist negotiations in post-Arab Spring Egypt. Sharon had also secured the UGC-Junior Research Fellowship during her research period in Hyderabad and Chennai. Her academic interests pertain to IR theory, gender politics, refugee studies, intersectionality, and area studies of South Asia, West Asia and North Africa, and Indo Pacific.

Sharon Susan Koshy
Sharon Susan Koshy
Sharon Susan Koshy is a Research Associate at Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR). She completed her Masters in IR and Political Science from Central University of Kerala, and MPhil in Political Science from the University of Hyderabad. For her MPhil thesis, she explored the themes of state and feminist negotiations in post-Arab Spring Egypt. Sharon had also secured the UGC-Junior Research Fellowship during her research period in Hyderabad and Chennai. Her academic interests pertain to IR theory, gender politics, refugee studies, intersectionality, and area studies of South Asia, West Asia and North Africa, and Indo Pacific.

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