The Indo-Pacific is becoming an important topic in the international power system for various reasons. The strained US-China relations are having an impact in the Indo-Pacific region. Australia in particular, though previously reserved on Indo-Pacific issues, has gradually begun to understand the difficulties involved with Chinese relations, especially on trade. Australia has also been very much disturbed by China’s ambition in the South and East China Sea. Hence, Australia has begun searching for new partners in the Indo-Pacific and has found a perfect one in India.
At present, there are 700,000 Indians in Australia and “Indian-born Australians are expected to outnumber Chinese-born Australians by 2031” (dfat.gov.au). India has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. It has a vast market, a growing middle class, an advancing democracy and an increasing plentitude of English speaking citizens.
Thus, given the Chinese threat and the growing affluence of India, it is unsurprising that Canberra has turned towards New Delhi. Thus far, there have been three rounds of fruitful and satisfactory trade negotiations between the two countries. Further, a recent virtual meeting between Australia and Indian Trade ministers in August 2021 concluded with a firm commitment to enter an early bilateral Comprehensive Economic Agreement before December 2021.
India is important to Australia for five particular reasons. Firstly, both Australia and India are democracies and share a variety of values. Both adhere well to international law. Each respects the human rights of its citizens and the freedom of the press. The two states both participate in various international forums and share a similar vision for the Indo-Pacific. Both desire freedom of maritime navigation and prosperous trade. Both are committed to tackling climate change. Most pertinently, both are actively seeking strong partners in the Indo-Pacific region. Australia cannot find these shared values in China.
Secondly, after the US, Indian students prefer Australian Universities for higher education more than any other country in the world. This is largely because Indian graduates have better employment opportunities in Australia than their compatriots in Europe/UK. Through this, Indian students provide considerable wealth to the Australian economy. According to a 2019 report of JEDUKA, an online educational portal, around 37,615 Indian students were studying in Australian Universities. These large numbers of Indian students provide a major source of funding to their Universities. The spending of these students in and around the Universities also creates many job opportunities around the campuses for Australians and much support to local economies.
Thirdly, Indians can enhance Australia’s workforce in a variety of sectors. Interestingly, Indians already form a sizeable proportion of Australia’s workforce. This is so especially in the field of Information Technology, in which Indians are renowned for their talent. The same is true in the Health sector. Australia is a common and lucrative destination for Indian doctors, nurses and physiotherapists. These professionals typically earn handsomely.
There is, however, much room for improvement on this question of employment. Indian workers could remedy employee shortages in some Australian sectors. There is at present, for example, a dearth of skilled labourers in Australia, such as carpenters, electricians, plumbers and builders. To remedy this, Australia could draw upon an abundant supply of available Indian labourers.
Fourthly, Australia has one of the largest mining resources in the world. India, meanwhile, is in need of some essential minerals. Government ministers should recognize this excellent trading opportunity. Indeed, there is tremendous potential for collaboration here.
Fifthly, in the recently held India-Australia 2+2 ministerial dialogue, the joint “statement reiterated the importance of the defense relationship.” Moreover, both countries committed to continue to participate in future military exercises and in other various defense partnerships.
To advance the relationship between Australia and India, both need to be more flexible in their demands. India must liberalize its market for Australian goods and services. Similarly, Australia must also consider India’s demands. It must be sensitive to the limitations of India’s market in opening up key sectors for Australian exports, especially with agricultural goods.
Both sides also need to improve their airline connections. Technological advancement has now reduced the significance of physical distance. Geographical distance is no longer an issue between Australia and India. Yet, the airline connections between the two great countries are still unsatisfactory. “Western Australia is the 2nd least populated state and home to 2.7 million Australians. The demographic profile of the state is expected to change with the developments of mega infrastructure projects, especially in its capital city, Perth” (aes.2020.in).
Western Australia and South India ought to be better connected with more direct flights. There should be more regular travel between Perth and Chennai, Bangalore, Cochin and Hyderabad. Indians should not need to fly to Australia via Singapore, Malaysia or Dubai. If Indians can easily travel to Perth, they can then more efficiently access their particular destination in South Australia. With a little political maneuvering, the Australian and Indian Aviation ministries can connect Perth to South Indian airports with frequent direct services.
It is clear from the above arguments that, “There is no market over the next 20 years which offers more growth opportunities for Australian business than India” (dfat.gov.au). Hence, Australia will benefit considerably from a close relationship with India. Australia may think that it is not easy to manage India, but in reality, India does not behave like China which is extremely assertive. Australia is one of the members of the newly formed security pact AUKUS and India is already one of the members of the quadrilateral security dialogue with Australia, U.S. and Japan. It indicates Australia and India are giving much importance to dialogue and that neither state is in a position to impose their interests on other nations. Hence, it is the right time for both countries to seize this opportunity and to share its benefits with their citizens.