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Relations between Australia and India: The Modi-flying Morrison Virtual Summit

The strategic partners since 2009 have been India and Australia. The two countries’ bilateral relations have evolved in recent years and share strong political, economic, and community links, thus further strengthening relations.

India and Australia share a great deal since both secular, multicultural democracies are Westminster-style. Continued to strengthen relations between two countries have had a significant role in growing links, including an increasing Indian diaspora in Australian and Indian students in higher education, tourism, sports, etc. in Australia.

The two pillars on which the two countries built their partnership were the principle and the practice of pragmatism. The bilateral relationship was stimulated by an exchange of first Ministerial visits in 2014, which “means the deepening of the Indian-Australian strategic partnership.”

India is at the top of Australia’s global partnerships under the Australian foreign policy plan published in November 2017. Concerning the relations between India and Australia, a blueprint says, “Our safety interests, in particular about the stability and openness of the Indian Ocean, are in line, above and beyond a growing economic relationship. Both
countries have common interests in upholding international law, particularly concerning maritime safety and freedom of navigation.” Australia strongly supports India’s strategic commitment to East Asia and the United States.

The Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s visit to India, scheduled for January 2020, was cancelled due to severe bush-fire in Australia. The next virtual summit on the bilateral relations of India and Australia between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Morrison was held on June 4 is the inflection point. Both countries should try to reach an agreement on the few outstanding issues left unsolved in recent years.

Economic relations between India and Australia in recent years have experienced considerable growth. Australia recognizes India’s enormous potential and growing economic profile, as can be seen from its government’s commissioning of the 2018 India Economic Strategy. But talks have flourished about a formal economic agreement.
The Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) was initiated by Australia and India in May 2011. They have been negotiating nine rounds to date, with the final leg taking place in September 2015. The talks were stalled, and the discussions were then held in India and Australia, including Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea on the RCEP, the Comprehensive Economic Partnership for the Regional Region (RCEP). India and Australia cannot agree on certain RCEP provisions, in particular on market access to agriculture and dairy products (concerns regarding market access for Chinese goods were also a major concern for New Delhi). India has opted out of the RCEP and has not signed the agreement, although other RCEP countries are still negotiating their membership with India. The next Modi-Morrison summit is expected to reinvigorate the CECA. India is the fifth-largest trade partner in Australia and is worth $29 billion trading in goods and services, representing 3.6% of total Australian trade during 2017-18. There was an estimated 8 billion A$ in Australia exports to India and 21 billion A$ in imports.

Over 100,000 Indian students in Australia are already studying, more than 2/3 of whom are in higher education. The Modi Morison Summit should address the differences between India and Australia in educational cooperation.
The New Colombo Plan of Australia, which encourages students from Australia to study in Indo Pacific countries in general and in India in particular, also has to be supported and popularised.
In the meanwhile, a diplomatic plan had been put on the ground by the COVID-19 pandemic. The curve COVID-19 and the spread of the virus contained in Australia were comparatively successful. Its geographical position has worked towards it, facilitating borders and also contributing to comply with the social distancing standards through the low population density. The spread of COVID-19 has given the worldwide opportunity to collaborate on R&D especially in the field of medicine.

The Summit should also focus on improving its relations with defenders. During the last two- plus-twice dialogue between foreign and defence ministers of both countries in December,

Indian and Australian partners approximated the signature, similar to the Logistics Exchange Memorandums of Agreement (LEMOA) between India and the United States, of a Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) for reciprocal access to bases and ports. By signing the MLSA agreement, the next virtual summit will be able to take up the agenda.
India’s Army, Air Force, and Indian Navy cooperate with their Australian counterparts and engage each other. Examples of the Indian Armed Forces’ close cooperation with the Australian Armed Forces include AUSTRA HIND (Special Army Exercise), AUS IND (Bilateral Maritime Exercise), KACADU (Multilateral Maritime Exercise), and Pitch-Black exercise
(Multilateral Air Exercise).
It is now a good time for India to dissipate its past hesitations regarding the Malabar trilateral naval exercise with Australia. India must invite Australia as a permanent member of the group to join the Malabar exercise, including the US and Japan. The inclusion of Australia in Malabar will provide new insights into the Quad for meaningful and result-based co-operation on capacity-building and interoperability and geopolitical signals about the new Indo-Pacific power balance.

The vision of the “free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific” has always been promoted in India through a multi-polar regional and international order, where no country should control or impose regional matters. The Indian Indo-Pacific vision is very much aligned with Australian Indo-Pacific, which promotes the “free and open Indo-Pacific” perspective with rules and open markets, as well as the freedom of high seas navigation and overflight. India and Australia share the same concern for Chinese expansionist behaviour, whether in the Southern China Sea or along China’s land borders, in particular the constant border standoff between India and China.

Other concerns include the neighbouring country’s economic coercion with Australia, which called on it to conduct an independent investigation into the causes of the coronavirus, as well as China’s influenza in other countries via unsustainable lending and the promotion of the Chinese authoritarian system.

Two geographical, geopolitical, and geoeconomics pillars in the Indo-Pacific region can be connected through the waters of the Indian Ocean, India, and Australia. In addressing outstanding issues, the Modi-Morrison virtual summit will play an important role in making the region’s future a key part.

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