Australia’s eyes wide shut to India
Australia must recognise the growing confidence, power and influence of India if we are to remain a relevant middle power within our own region, argues a report being released this Thursday.
In The Importance of India: restoring sight to Australia’s strategic blind spot, CIS Foreign Policy Research Fellow John Lee explains that when Canberra looks northwards to Asia it mainly sees China’s presence and ignores the other rising giant of the region: India.
‘The future credentials of India are consistently ignored or given relatively little attention by officials and strategists in Canberra. Beyond token statements acknowledging its rise, India remains our great strategic blind spot’ he says.
Goldman Sachs estimates that the Indian economy will quadruple in size from 2007 to 2020 and India has made great advances in their bilateral relations with the United States and key South-East Asia countries. India is becoming an increasingly important stakeholder in, and contributor to, the existing security order.
Despite these developments, ‘India is poorly appreciated by the Rudd government – this is confirmed by the lack of energy and resources devoted to building a bilateral relationship with New Delhi.’ argues Lee.
Ignoring India as the United States and our other allies and partners in Asia are developing bilateral relations is a serious mistake and it highlights Australia’s failure to recognise the important role that India plays in the region in helping to manage the rise of China.
‘India’s role and its strategic weight in helping to ‘structurally’ constrain and manage a potentially disruptive China is poorly appreciated in Canberra.’
‘Rather than devote our energy towards building new security architecture for the region, which is premature, we need to first bulk up our key relationships with emerging power centres such as New Delhi.’
Australia can no longer afford to ignore the importance of India; our eyes must become wide open.
Dr John Lee is a Foreign Policy Research Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies & a Visiting Fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington. He is available for comment.
The report is available at xxxxx.
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Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has invited leading politicians and opinion makers in the region to a conference in early December in Sydney to discuss his vision of an Asia-Pacific Community and building inclusive institutions to discuss the full spectrum of security matters in the region. Besides wanting to ensure that Australia remains relevant rather than sidelined in any future setup, the main impetus behind Canberra’s push for top-down security architecture is to take a proactive approach in order to manage China’s rise and build institutions that can help ease current and future tensions.
When Canberra looks northwards to Asia, it mainly sees China’s presence and ignores the other rising giant of the region: India. In important respects, India’s economic and strategic prospects appear more favourable than China’s. Even if we accept that the continued and rapid rise of China will be the most significant driver of change and potential instability in Asia, India’s role and its strategic weight in helping to ‘structurally’ constrain and manage a potentially disruptive China is poorly appreciated in Canberra.
The paper traces the rise of ‘strategic India’ in Asia, the significance of the remarkable improvement in the US-India relationship, and the rapid progress made in bringing India into the existing regional security order. India is becoming an increasingly important stakeholder in, and contributor to, the existing regional security order. The paper concludes that despite the abundance of strategic and diplomatic activity in the region reflecting New Delhi’s growing importance, India remains Australia’s great ‘strategic blind-spot.’ Although Canberra is making some efforts to improve military-to-military ties with India, its diplomatic engagement with New Delhi is poor. Indeed, the relatively undeveloped relationship between Canberra and New Delhi is the weak link in terms of India’s improving network of government-to-government relationships with key security partners in the Asia-Pacific.
The Indian economy still has a long way to go before it is irreversibly on the path of successful development. But on the back of a vibrant and growing middle class of around 300 million people, it is already a giant in Asia growing in confidence, ambition, power, wealth, and influence. Its rise is not feared by other Asian states and its values and interests are closely aligned with our own. Given that diplomatic and economic resources are limited, the current focus on building new security architecture is an unnecessary distraction. Washington and other capitals in Asia recognise that when it comes to collectively meeting the challenge of China’s rise, deepening bilateral relationships with emerging centres of power such as New Delhi are an important priority. If Australia is to remain a strategically and diplomatically clever, active and relevant middle power in the future—and a key player in future security institutions that might be built when the Asia-Pacific region is ready—then looking northwards towards India rather than just East Asia is crucial.