Australia & India cozying up, finally
Australia and India cozying up, finally
After years of procrastination, Australia seems to be set its eyes on strengthening its relations with India. During the Australian Prime Minister Mr. Tony Abbot’s visit to Delhi, an agreement on the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy has been signed. It is a sure sign of Australia abandoning its earlier ways of looking at India in an adversarial way. Since the signing of the Indo-U.S. Civil Nuclear Deal (123 Agreement) in 2006, Australia had been mulling over the idea to have similar relations with India. But, due to the earlier legacy of suspicion and hostility since India conducted the Pokharan test, it found it hard to move to strengthen its relations with India on nuclear trade. This was despite the fact that India was eager to sign similar deals with Australia.
With 40 per cent of the world’s uranium reserves, Australia is an important source of this scarce mineral that India needs in large quantities to keep its nuclear power plants running. In fact, for India’s vigorous efforts to expand its nuclear power programme, access to any assured source of Uranium is crucial. Hence Australia is so important to India.
In 2011, the then Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard pushed hard to make her Labour Party agree to lift the embargo on Uranium sales to India. Her effort facilitated the signing of the agreement during Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s visit. With this, the pall of mistrust and hostility that had shrouded Indo-Australian relations for decades has been lifted hopefully for good. Bilateral relations have got a real fillip after this milestone was crossed.
The change in the government in India, and the gradual ewmergence of India as an economic power has nudged Australia to see the writing in the wall, and agree to export whatever Uranium India needs for its nuclear programme. After all, a big customer like India for Uranium is hard to be turned away by Australian mining companies.
After the Fukushima disaster, the western world became averse to nuclear power and the international demand for Uranium fell. At the same time, India’s appetite for Uranium rose. In such a scenario, holding back Uranium sales to India is not a sound commercial judgment for India. The Australian mining industry having considerable clout over the government lobbied hard for lifting of the restrictions on Uranium sales to India. Australia is also looking to expand trade with India in other commodities. Mr. Abbott came with a big business delegation to pave the way for more vigorous bilateral trade. Mr. Abbot wants to conclude a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with New Delhi by 2016.
With free import of Uranium from Australia, the trust deficit between the two countries will melt away. This will facilitate strengthening of closer strategic ties. Mr. Abbott wants to have India on board in the U.S.-led effort to maintain the strategic balance in East Asia vis-à-vis China. There are some signs emanating from Delhi that India might join a grand coalition to contain China. During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s just-concluded visit to Japan, he made some passing reference to the concern in Japan and elsewhere about China’s strident stance in Asia. This might have encouraged Mr. Abott to seek India’s involvement in the effort to counter China’s growing assertiveness in the region. Mr. Modi is scheduled to visit Australia for the G-20 summit. He will also hold bilateral discussions there. This visit of an Indian Prime Minister to Australia will come after a gap of 28 years. However, India has to careful not to rub China in the wrong side. India is committed to strengthen its political and commercial ties with China. Any quick push to cozy up to Australia might be misread by China. This might hamper a quick resolution of the long-running border dispute which both China and India are trying to settle peacefully.