Albanese’s post-election dash to the Tokyo Quad summit in May 2022, which included meeting Narendra Modi, was well received (@AlboMP/Twitter)
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s recent visit to India has bolstered the already-strong ties between the two countries, paving the way for increased economic, strategic, and diplomatic cooperation. The visit also comes amid growing concerns over China’s assertive behavior in the region, which has prompted many countries to seek closer partnerships with India as a counterbalance. Additionally, the visit has raised concerns for Pakistan, which has traditionally been a close ally of China and has had a strained relationship with India.
During the visit, Albanese in a meeting met with his Indian counterpart Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will discuss a range of issues, including defense and security cooperation, trade and investment, and climate change. They will also expected to sign several agreements, including a joint statement on a shared vision for maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. This is significant, as it underscores both countries’ commitment to a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific, which has become a key focus of Australian foreign policy in recent years.
The visit has also been seen as a signal of Australia’s deepening commitment to the region, which has become increasingly important in light of China’s growing assertiveness. By strengthening ties with India, Australia is signaling its willingness to work with other regional powers to maintain a balance of power and promote stability in the region. This is likely to be seen as a threat by China, which has been accused of trying to dominate the region and has responded to Australia’s growing role in the region with hostility.
China has expressed concerns over the growing ties between Australia and India, warning against “playing with fire” and interfering in the region’s affairs.
China has long viewed the Indo-Pacific region as its sphere of influence and has been accused of trying to dominate the region through its Belt and Road Initiative and its territorial claims in the South China Sea. Australia has been a vocal critic of China’s behavior and has sought to counter its influence by strengthening partnerships with other countries in the region, including India.
China’s warning to Australia comes amid a broader deterioration in relations between the two countries, which have been strained in recent years over issues such as human rights, trade, and national security. China has also imposed a series of economic sanctions on Australia in response to its criticism, further straining relations between the two countries.
Pakistan is said to be worried about the growing ties between Australia and India, fearing that it may be isolated in the region and lose a key ally in China. Pakistan has traditionally had a close relationship with China and has been a key partner in its Belt and Road Initiative. However, its relationship with India has been strained, with the two countries engaging in several armed conflicts over the years.
The recent visit by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to India aimed at strengthening ties between the two countries has raised concerns in Pakistan. It fears that the growing partnership between Australia and India may undermine its own position in the region and leave it vulnerable to pressure from both countries.
Pakistan has also been facing increasing pressure from the United States, which has been pushing it to take a tougher stance against terrorism and to do more to promote regional stability. This has put Pakistan in a difficult position, as it seeks to balance its relations with China, India, and the United States while maintaining its own national interests.
IAN HALL, Lowy Institute wrote:
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s visit to India comes at a pivotal moment for Australia’s ties with that country. Over the past 15 years, the two have overcome decades of mutual indifference and built a promising strategic partnership. The challenge now is to consolidate those gains and realise the potential of the relationship.
This will not be easy. To be sure, Australia and India have common concerns and our people-to-people ties are burgeoning. Both countries are worried about China’s ambition and assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific. Both are keen to see the growing Indian diaspora in Australia flourish. More than three-quarters of a million people of Indian origin – students and skilled workers – now call Australia home.
These shared interests are important, but in themselves they are not sufficient to deliver a robust partnership. There are other like-minded states with whom Australia and India might collaborate to manage Beijing’s behaviour. And diasporas, however enterprising, can and often do complicate relations between governments.
The first step towards getting the partnership on the right track is recognising that strong ties with India are not inevitable, despite shared anxieties and cultural connections. The second is acknowledging that even during the past decade and a half, the relationship has ebbed and flowed, and appreciating the reasons why.
One major problem is that Australian and Indian politicians and officials simply do not know enough about each other’s country. In Canberra, only a handful of MPs and bureaucrats know India well. The situation in New Delhi is much the same.
This lack of understanding has serious consequences. Official statements get misconstrued, intentions misread, and capabilities under- or over-estimated. Such errors, in turn, feed the sceptics and critics on both sides, who question the wisdom of the strategic partnership in public and private.
Another difficulty is that the relationship remains overly dependent on the personal commitment of prime ministers. We have seen this clearly over the last decade. Under Tony Abbott and later Scott Morrison, the strategic partnership moved forward, thanks to their enthusiasm and personal diplomacy with India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi. Under Malcolm Turnbull, it did not, reflecting the concerns he later detailed in his memoirs about India’s political and economic trajectories.
On the Australian side, however, perhaps the biggest obstacle remains uncertainty about what Canberra hopes to achieve with India. The Abbott and Morrison governments sought to enlist New Delhi in a values-based Indo-Pacific coalition principally aimed at China. More prosaic objectives are outlined in recent Defence and Foreign Policy White Papers, including broader security cooperation in areas such as upholding freedom of navigation, boosting trade and investment, and collaboration in science and technology.
The Albanese government has already gone a long way in reassuring New Delhi that the new administration values the relationship. It has signalled that Australia wants to work with India bilaterally and in other forums. The prime minister’s post-election dash to the Tokyo Quad summit in May 2022, made with Foreign Minister Penny Wong, was well received. So too was Defence Minister Richard Marles’ well-publicised trip to India the following month and the flurry of ministerial visits since.
The government has also advanced or unveiled a series of other initiatives since coming to power last year. It is promoting the benefits of a trade agreement signed in the dying days of Morrison’s term. It is pushing ahead with a new Centre for Australia-India Relations, which will have some $20 million to spend on engaging the Indian diaspora and building cultural ties between the two countries. It has indicated that Australia is keen to work more closely with India on climate change and renewable energy.
More still needs to be done. Albanese will no doubt use this visit to establish a strong rapport with Modi. This makes sense: the Indian prime minister will likely remain in power for the next five years, if not the next decade, and is the key to effective cooperation. India’s over-stretched bureaucracy moves on Modi’s direction. Making deals with India and implementing them depends to a large degree on winning his confidence.
To consolidate the strategic partnership, this visit will also have to begin to answer the questions of what Australia wants from New Delhi and how India fits into Canberra’s strategic vision for the Indo-Pacific.
Rightly, the Albanese government has prioritised strengthening ties with Southeast Asia and the Pacific, and “stabilising” the relationship with China during its first months in office. But India – along with Japan and the United States – is key to establishing what the foreign minister terms a “strategic equilibrium” in the Indo-Pacific. Without India’s growing economic and military power, we will struggle to manage Beijing’s ambitions. Without India’s diplomatic influence, we will find it harder to persuade some of the smaller states of the region to do what they must to ensure regional security and prosperity.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Coverpage’s editorial stance.