Skip to comments.Let's put more passion into courting India
Posted on 10/20/2012 4:59:04 PM PDT by James C. Bennett
JULIA Gillard did important and useful work in India this week. Three headline results came out of the Prime Minister's three-day visit.
First, Australia and India will negotiate a formal safeguards agreement that will allow the export of Australian uranium to India. A year ago Gillard got the Labor Party to reverse its previous opposition to selling uranium to India. At the moment, India is not short of uranium. But its nuclear industry is embarked on a huge expansion, as is the nuclear industry of some other countries such as China. In an interview in 2006, India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told me he wanted Australia to become a leading supplier of uranium to India.
Indeed this is the only way Australia is likely to become a nation of strategic consequence to India. It is something the Indians want because they value Australia's stability and reliability as a supplier of resources. This is a strategic decision more on New Delhi's part than Canberra's, and for this reason has a real chance of amounting to something.
Of course, uranium is part of a wider energy trade between the two nations and there will now be a more formal dialogue on energy security. Two-way annual trade all up is $20 billion, dominated by commodities. Gillard would like it to be $40bn by 2015. India could settle in for a long stretch as our fourth biggest market, or even climb higher.
Second, Gillard and the redoubtable Singh agreed to a mechanism of annual prime ministerial meetings. This is very important. Canberra has made the same proposal to Beijing and has not yet got an answer. Indeed, the revelation of this may well have played a role in India's acceptance of the idea. One-upmanship with China is never to be ruled out as a motivation in these matters for New Delhi.
It is a startling 26 years since an Indian prime minister visited Australia. Given that India is so much bigger and more important than Australia, this represents a cross-generational failure by the Australian nation of the highest order. It is a failure to engage India, to earn its attention.
In this new agreement, New Delhi is certainly not agreeing to a visit by its PM every second year. The prime ministerial meetings will mostly take place on the sidelines of multilateral meetings that leaders of both countries attend. Nonetheless, it is a serious commitment. Such meetings drive a great deal of bureaucratic energy. This is an unalloyed good.
Third, the two nations have committed to full-scale naval exercises. There is no detail yet as to how often these will take place, or under what auspices, whether they might be part of existing naval exercises involving other countries. But as Gillard rightly commented: "Currently our defence relationship is underdeveloped. Indeed we have stronger defence ties with China than we do with India. So naval exercising is an obvious way of taking the relationship forward, given our shared interest in the Indian Ocean."
More than all this, Gillard got the atmospherics of her visit, and her language, right. Without any equivocation she declared: "The India-Australia relationship is anchored in shared values as liberal democracies, converging interests and shared opportunities in the Asian Century."
Quite rightly, she flattered the Indians a little, hailing them as "a sign of hope to the world" and noting "the global importance of your national success as a great democracy in Asia". She also said she wanted India to become one of our most important relationships.
Given that it was Gillard's personal initiative to change Labor's policy on uranium, she deserves credit for the good outcomes this week.
However, the more important and bigger judgment is this. Both the Gillard government and the Australian nation are way, way behind where they should be with India if the objective is to maximise our national interest.
This week's visit is so welcome, and could achieve so much, partly because of the shocking neglect of the Indian relationship in the past.
This is a bipartisan failure going back decades, but it is something that John Howard was working hard to correct in his last years in office. Way back in 2006, Howard changed Australian policy and his government committed to selling uranium to India.
Labor came into office in 2007 and immediately reversed this. It then embarked on a needless and ludicrous journey, spending four years rowing furiously away from good policy, only to suddenly change course a year ago and row back to where it started. Five years of herculean Labor effort has brought it to the position that Howard had reached in 2006. Now it wants a medal pinned to its chest for expert seamanship.
Meanwhile, our nation has wasted more than half a decade of opportunity in India. This is always the Australian story with India, a dollar short and a day late.
After Labor's insane uranium reversal in 2007, we had the terrible spate of bashings of Indian students, predominantly in Melbourne, in 2008. This provided billions of dollars worth of bad publicity for Australia in India.
Although it was not any government that caused the bashings, the incident was a failure of government at three levels.
One, the federal government did not regulate shonky vocational education providers. Two, the Victorian government was extraordinarily slow to make a serious effort to provide security for the students. And three, neither the federal nor the Victorian government would acknowledge the obvious, that while the bashings were mostly opportunistic, they certainly involved a degree of racism, even if often opportunistic racism.
But our failure to maximise our position with India is playing out more broadly. The Indian and Australian societies are engaging each other ever more deeply but the government, even after a productive, is still lagging way behind.
Three big positive things have happened in the relationship.
We are benefiting from India's still prodigious, if temporarily slowing, economic growth by exporting bulk commodities. We have attracted a lot of Indian students. And we have attracted a lot of Indian migrants. India is our second biggest source of students and our biggest source of skilled migrants.
All these developments rest on a certain quality of good governance in Australia, but they are virtually auto-pilot achievements and reflect no serious effort to engage India or learn about it.
Once Australian universities were world leaders in the study of India. That has not been the case for decades.
Our leaders hardly ever visit India. We do not train a single diplomat in Hindi or any other Indian language, a shocking gap. Our government lavishly funds China studies institutes but the University of Melbourne's Australia India Institute is given a shoestring budget for a couple of years at a time, and is the only body of its kind in Australia.
More than 100 years ago Alfred Deakin wrote two books about India, one about its irrigation techniques and one about culture. Which Australian cabinet minister could do that today?
India, an emerging giant and powerhouse on every dimension of national consequence, has perhaps more soft power and cultural energy than any nation in the world. It is teeming with possibilities. It is our natural partner. And we are all but fast asleep.
Yes,for many reasons the Western democracies,not just Australia,should be attempting to strengthen ties with India.Her population,her growing economy and her historic ties with English speaking nations make coaxing India firmly into the “Anglosphere” very important indeed.
I agree, though we need to start returning American companies to America.
Not to 49% foreign pretend something or others.
American companies. Hiring Americans. Run by Americans.