After the disappointment over uranium supply and the friction over the attacks on Indian students, India and Australia are looking for another magic bullet to intensify bilateral ties when Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd visits New Delhi next month, senior Ministers and analysts told The Hindu.
“Uranium would have been the magic wand, but now both sides have to look for another magic bullet. Education would have been part of the solution till the vocational side got out of hand,” according to strategic expert Rory Medcalf of the Lowey Institute.
Now that the desire of the two countries to forge closer security-related ties has ebbed, Mr. Medcalf as well as Trade Minister Simon Crean pin their hopes on Australian energy, a free trade agreement and cooperation on the international stage as potential triggers for greater bilateral cooperation.
The feasibility report on an Indo-Australia Free Trade Agreement is ready and will be considered by both countries. “We are hopeful of a positive response. We will try to expedite the process,” says Mr. Crean. Canberra professes to understand India’s sensitivity in agriculture and sees opportunities in services, and in meeting the gaps in India’s infrastructure and increased energy needs. “Beyond the sensitive areas, there are huge complementarities,” says the influential Labour Party leader.
Uranium is not likely to come up on the bilateral radar after the Rudd government reversed the decision made by his predecessor to sell it to India. “It is not an issue targeted only at India. We have been supportive of India’s inclusion in the civil nuclear programme, but at the moment the policy is such that it is not possible to supply it to India,” Mr. Crean explains.
“Labour went back on the decision to supply uranium for ideological reasons. A reversal of the decision would require the government to confront the party’s rank and file at a conference. Mr. Rudd had no choice [but to cancel the decision],” says Mr. Medcalf.
Uranium supply has become an issue, and some are upset that the government is not doing enough to find ways of supplying India. There are people who feel this issue is an obstacle to increasing the cooperation between the two countries. “Perhaps Canberra has not recognised the extent to which it is seen in New Delhi as a central matter. Perhaps it will take a little time for the government to work its way through this issue,” feels Rowan Callick of The Australian.
Security ties have cooled after Malabar 07 that earned all the participating countries demarches from China. At the joint exercises hosted by Australia last year, India didn’t turn up, but Malaysia and Indonesia, whose area of maritime jurisdiction around the Malacca Straits is of great interest to New Delhi, took part.
But the great big hope is gas. India recently signed a long-term agreement, and there are hopes the two sides could do more work in the area.
Australia has been attempting to blunt continuing criticism of the attacks on Indian students to stabilise the bilateral ties and nudge them in new directions. “Australia for a service economy has to be safe. It is not a question of Indian and Chinese students. We won’t tolerate attacks and will take whatever it takes to control them,” promises Anthony Bryne, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister.
But Mr. Callick says that while Australia takes its relationship with India seriously, it would also like to see India pursuing its Look East policy more vigorously. “The Rudd visit will trigger an intensification process. As you get closer issues emerge that don’t appear when you have distant relations. We should resolve the students issue and move on.”