Neglect, Soft Diplomacy and Great Possibilities

Finally, after years of discussion about the importance of economic and stronger diplomatic ties with India it appears that all the talk has transformed into action. Prime Minister Julia Gillard, on a trip to India today announced that Australia would seek to give the relationship with India the same level of attention and significance as ties with Japan, Korea and Indonesia. Relations have been held back recently, including over a reluctance on Australia’s part, until recently, to sell uranium to India and also as a response to a number of violent attacks on Indian students.

There is no doubt that India, the second largest country by population and world’s largest democracy can be the source of abundant opportunity, economically and culturally. But the benefits of a greater engagement with India are not one way, greater trade and engagement will be mutually beneficial if harnessed to their full potential.

At present the relationship is worth close to $20 billion to Australia and in beginning bilateral free trade talks with the south-Asian country, the Trade Minister, Craig Emerson signalled intentions to double that figure to $40 billion. The intentions there are great and working towards that outcome is an important process that needs to be facilitated.

As part of the trip so far, a headline-stealer above and beyond anyone of the economic issues so far, was announced by Julia Gillard. The Australian Government would be conferring membership of the Order of Australia on Sachin Tendulkar.

It is unclear what benefit this act of ‘soft diplomacy’ will have as we pursue more mutual interests with the subcontinental nation. If anything, the benefit will be the temporary winning of brownie points as we seek to increase our cultural and trade ties with India. To that end, it is useless if not back up with firm and substantial commitments to further the bilateral arrangements between Australia and India.

The journey to India is all about catching up on lost time in the relationship between our two countries. For too long it has been pushed too much to the side, even not pursued at times, especially in the wake of acts of violence on Indian students which were quickly characterised in the media here and in the subcontinent as acts of racial violence.

Far from just focusing on the temporary and largely superficial effects of giving Sachin Tendulkar an honour usually reserved for Australians and the dubious and troublesome trade in uranium, an equal focus on trade in a broader range of commodities and on the services side of our economy is entirely necessary.

India too has much to offer, not the least of which is a well-educated and competitively-priced technology sector.

It has been claimed that the pursuit of greater bonds with India is to act as a counterbalance in the region to the rise of China which, while entirely peaceful, has drawn varying levels of concern from different countries.

Frankly, that is absolute nonsense. Trade with India will in no way have any effect, positive or negative, on the relationship with China. Yes, both India and China have different forms of government, but that just does not play as a factor in necessary trading relationships.

There will also be no time, even in the most distant future where India would eclipse China in economy size.

If we are to further ties with India, then what was described today as a “standing invitation” for the Indian Prime Minister to travel to India will need to become a formal invitation asking Mr Singh to visit Australia. It has been far too long, nearly 26 years in fact, since the last visit of an Indian leader to our shores.

There is much work to be done in the relationship with India and the task is made harder because of the indifference and at times outright lack of interest in growing the limited economic and friendship ties between our two nations. The misaligned tyres from hitting potholes encountered along the way have also been neglected for too long and what could have been an easy repair job were their immediate attention, now requires a look at the axles.

About Tom Bridge

A perennial student of politics, providing commentary for money and for free. Email me at or contact me on 0435 035 095 for engagements.

Posted on October 17, 2012, in Federal Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Not before time. We should be engaging with the whole of the Asia/Indo/Pacifi region. That is going to be the economic powerhouse of the 21sth century as the Euro/American region goes into decline.

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