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Indian Foreign Minister’s Visit to Australia Strengthens Strategic Convergence, Trust, and Continuity in the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership

01 Nov 2022
By Dr Ashok Sharma
Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles meets India's External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar. Source: DFAT CC BY 3.0 AU

On 10 October, Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar made his second visit to Australia. The visit, for the annual Foreign Ministers Framework Dialogue between the two countries, has become an important institutional arrangement to strengthen the deepening Australia-India Comprehensive  Strategic Partnership (CSP).

During his Australia visit, Jaishankar met his Australian counterpart, Penny Wong, Defence Minister Richard Marles, and Education Minister Jason Clare. They reiterated their commitment to the CSP and placed emphasis on range of issues on which India and Australia can work together more closely, including fortifying ties in the areas of commerce, culture, and education. More importantly, the visit reaffirmed the growing strategic convergence, strategic trust, and strategic continuity in the India-Australia ties amid growing challenges in the Indo-Pacific.

Educational and Professional Exchange to Strengthen CSP

During the Indian foreign minister’s visit to Australia, both nations took stock of the progress of the  CSP. Jaishankar discussed India’s New Educational Policy (NEP), an  important step toward transforming the Indian education system, and fostering professional interchange. The two countries have been developing their educational ties, and the NEP offers another platform to bring the current educational partnership to the next level.

Given that Australia is quickly rising to the top of the list of international study destinations for Indian students, the conversation about fostering linkages between individuals and enhancing educational ties is crucial. Australia overtook the UK a long ago as the preferred destination of Indian students and is now only behind the US. The NEP and the broader dialogue between Australia and India on education would provide a boost to one of the flagship sectors of bilateral trade. This has the potential to significantly speed up trade and commerce in other industries, including research and development in a number of fields, enhance professional ties between the two countries, and promote tourism.

Foreign MinistersFramework Dialogue

The fact that Jaishankar was in Australia for the second time this year for the sixth annual Foreign Ministers’ Framework Dialogue underscores the significance of the relationship between Australia and India. For both nations to achieve their intended aim under the CSP, the diplomatic channels are crucial.

During their meeting, both foreign ministers spoke about advancing and developing economic ties, notably through the Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA), enhancing people-to-people and educational ties, and stepping up engagement in sustainable energy initiatives. Both have goals to strengthen economic links and take use of the enormous potential in their complementary economies. The ministers sought to evaluate ECTA’s development as well as address the double taxation that Indian businesses have been facing.

The move to expand the diplomatic footprints, with India planning an additional consulate in Australia and Australia planning to open a consulate in Bengaluru, is significant. Both countries have suffered from the lack of trust and confidence, which hampered the pace of the overall progress of the Australia-India relationship. India’s non-signatory status of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Australia’s flip-flop on the decision to sell uranium to India, and opposition to the Adani Carmichael coal mining project created a trust deficit between New Delhi and Canberra.

Trade continues to be below its potential despite various efforts to take advantage of the economies’ synergy and shared security concerns. Official visits and dialogues at the diplomatic level will strengthen and enhance the exchange of goods, services, and professionals.  The annual Foreign Ministers’ Framework Dialogue can both advance trade and clear up any misunderstandings that may otherwise cause the relationship between Australia and India to stall.

Strategic Convergence and Continuity in the Indo-Pacific

India and Australia share a desire for an Indo-Pacific that is peaceful, prosperous, and where sovereignty is respected. Both foreign ministers reaffirmed their dedication to pursuing their converging strategic objectives in the Indo-Pacific by continuing cooperation on defence and security and strengthening the Quad, a potent strategy for addressing both traditional and non-traditional security challenges in the region.

Jaishankar’s second visit to Australia this year demonstrates the importance both Australia and India place on their partnership. Since the signing of the Australia-India Civil Nuclear Agreement and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Australia in 2014, both nations have prioritised one another in their strategic planning. Since then, both have steadily advanced diplomatically and politically, with a surge in the number of prominent ministers and officials visiting one another’s nations and summit-level meetings.

Jaishankar’s visits this year have been during the Russia-Ukraine conflict. India’s stand of abstaining on the resolution of Russia’s aggression at the United Nations has not affected the pace of the deepening trajectory of the India-Australia bond. In fact, during the October meeting, India’s stance was clearly explained, especially on the matter of India’s connection with Russia. The Indian envoy blamed Western nations’ unwillingness to provide military hardware to India during the Cold War and instead support next-door Pakistan. In response, Wong reiterated Australia’s condemnation of Russia’s illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine, and she welcomed Modi raising his concerns with Putin in their September meeting, during which Modi told Putin that this is not the time for war.

Wong spoke about the significance of the Quad and the two nations’ commitment to shaping the Quad and maintaining peace and tranquillity in the Indo-Pacific. The Quad Security Dialogue, a grouping of the US, India, Japan, and Australia, has re-emerged after a hiatus of almost a decade and can be called the most crucial Indo-Pacific strategy for both non-conventional and conventional security issues. The Quad has become more critical in terms of managing pandemics, using sustainable energy sources, fighting global warming, and most importantly balancing China’s expanding and assertive military posture in the Indo-Pacific.

The Foreign Ministers’ Framework Dialogue and diplomatic visits are critical for continued engagement and the mobility of professionals as India and Australia build and sustain the CSP and shape the Indo-Pacific region.

Dr Ashok Sharma is a Visiting Fellow at Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Coral Bell School of Asia-Pacific Affairs, the Australian National University. Dr Sharma is also an Academic Fellow of the Australia-India Institute at the University of Melbourne; a Visiting Fellow at the University of New South Wales Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy; and an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Institute for Governance & Policy Analysis, University of Canberra.

This article is published under a Creative Commons License and can be republished with attribution.