It is no accident that my first two bilateral visits as Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister of Australia are to Japan and India.
The case for Australia making India a priority is unassailable: Australia must strengthen its understanding of and engagement with the world’s soon-to-be most populous nation and a deeply consequential power.
Our world — and our region — faces the most serious strategic confluence of events since the end of the Second World War: Intensifying strategic and geo-economic competition, the return of war to Europe, growing climate risks, and enduring pandemic impacts, all of which are driving inflation and supply chain shocks. Countries which share common values and interests must work together with resolve to shape our economic and strategic environment so that it continues to support our collective security and prosperity.
My visit this week to New Delhi conviction and Goa is based on that, and the commitment by the new Australian government to place India at the heart of Australia’s approach to the Indo-Pacific and beyond. India’s economy, manufacturing capabilities and talent ensure it will play a key role in securing supply chains and restarting post-pandemic growth. Its military has the capacity and ability to respond to natural disasters, help stabilize an uncertain region and contribute to an effective balance of power. And its technological and scientific capabilities are gateways to a cleaner and more sustainable world. Most of all, India’s people have the optimism, the commitment to democracy, the drive and the goodwill to make our region safer, freer and better.
Australia shares that ambition.
Ours is a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership full of practical, tangible actions that strengthen ties and benefit the region. We are among a very small group of countries to hold annual leaders’ summits and biennial 2+2 talks involving foreign and defense ministers. Today, our defense forces are undertaking more complex activities together, such as in Exercise Malabar with the US and Japan. Last year, Indian military officials observed our Exercise Talisman Saber, and I have renewed the invitation for India’s forces to participate fully in the future iterations of this exercise. We coordinate closely on maritime domain awareness. This year we have P-8 surveillance aircraft to each other’s territories for joint patrols. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to see these capabilities in action, flying alongside dedicated Indian P-8 personnel.
Australia has also committed to a package of partnership initiatives in our update to the India Economic Strategy. The update includes a five-year action plan for the Australian Government to achieve the long-term ambitions set out in the landmark 2018 India Economic Strategy to 2035. It also includes new bilateral cooperation that spans the full breadth of the relationship. These include opening a Consulate-General in Bengaluru in 2023 to tap into India’s technology and start-up hub, and a joint Australia-India Center of Excellence for Critical and Emerging Technology Policy, also in Bengaluru. In Australia, we will open an Australia-based Center for India-Australia Relations to propel and strengthen our community, institutional and business ties — including through a suite of new Maitri (mateship) scholarships, fellowships, and partnerships.
India and Australia have great potential to cooperate on climate and sustainability. As we do on ethical critical mineral and resource production, cutting-edge renewable technology research and development, skills and education, waste and the circular economy, business, investment, and advanced manufacturing. Our government is focused on making Australia a renewable energy superpower, and we want to see India emerge as a clean technology manufacturing powerhouse.
As our bilateral relationship deepens, we must begin to work more together with others in the region. We see enormous potential in the Indian and Pacific oceans, where we each have vital interests in combating climate change, illegal fishing and people smuggling and responding to humanitarian crises and natural disasters. India and Australia have shown that when we work in partnership, as in the wake of Tonga’s devastating underwater earthquake, we are greater than the sum of our parts. Right across the Bay of Bengal, we are responding to the needs of our partners, including through connectivity, trade and energy, and maritime partnerships in the East Indian Ocean.
Australia and India take our commitments to our regional partners seriously. India has assisted Sri Lanka through its current economic crisis. Australia is doing the same, contributing approximately Rs 270 crore (AUD 50 million) in Official Development Assistance to support health services, and economic recovery.
As I have discussed with many of my new counterparts, Australia has a vision for an open, inclusive and resilient Indo-Pacific region. It is a vision for a region that is more integrated rather than divided, where trade and investment flow freely based on agreed rules and commitment treats, where disputes are resolved through dialogue in accordance with international law, and where a strategic culture that respects the rights of all states, big and small, prevails. It is a vision that we share with partners like ASEAN, and partners like India.
Australia’s vision for the region’s peace and stability is for these principles, not against any one power. But it is not just words. It is backed by investment, authentic partnership and action. Whether through joint activities with like-minded countries, or our support of regional and multilateral architecture, Australia is ensuring the region has options and balance.
Australia’s interests don’t just align with India’s, they are inextricably entwined. Expect this relationship to grow and prosper, our cooperation to deepen. This might be my first visit as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defense, but it will certainly not be my last.
(The writer is Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister)