A key forum policy forum in New Delhi has called on Australia, India and Indonesia to take the lead in shaping the region’s response to the growing might of China.The co-chairs of the 2012 Australia-India roundtable conference sponsored by the Australia India Institute said ties were at an historic juncture, with new momentum and trust allowing for boosted efforts to shape regional security and create prosperity.
Bolstering inclusive regional institutions such as the East Asia Summit, while also being open to new functional arrangements such as three-way dialogues with Indonesia or other partners, would contribute to regional order. The creation of an Australia-India-Indonesia troika in the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation was a promising start, and could provide a basis for a maritime security dialogue among the nations.
India and Australia should deepen their security collaboration, including through regular bilateral naval exercises. Potential areas for future defence cooperation include development of amphibious capabilities, submarine rescue, operational communication links, and maritime domain awareness in overlapping zones of interest in the Indian Ocean. The two nations should bring together maritime legal specialists to develop shared understandings on critical regional issues such as freedom of navigation. At the same time they should maintain and deepen their dialogues with China and other powers to provide reassurance about the stabilising nature of deeper Australia-India security relations.
But the conference, co-chaired by an Indian think tank and the Lowy Institute for International Policy, also concluded that sustained creativity and effort on the part of governments, business and society would be needed to actualise their vast potential in the Indo-Pacific region in the Asian Century.
Opening the dialogue on Tuesday Australia’s Minister for Resources and Energy,Martin Ferguson MP, gave a frank assessment of the need for India to allow market forces to determine the price of energy, and said the outcome of negotiations for a nuclear safeguards agreement allowing Australia to export uranium to India depended on the extent to which the two countries resourced the talks.
Canberra and New Delhi should also work towards an Indian Prime Ministerial visit to Australia and consult closely in the lead-up to the 2014 G20 summit in Brisbane.
With Indians comprising one of the largest and fastest-growing communities in Australia, the co-chairs concluded there was great scope for societal links to strengthen political and business ties. It was essential to build constituencies to champion and bolster Australia-India relations in both countries to weather the difficult phases that occur in any bilateral relationship.
Both sides agreed it was inevitable that coal and natural gas would continue to play a major role in India’s energy security. Australia and India should therefore redouble efforts to bring together industry and research communities on clean coal technology and share experience on sustainable mining practices. A full energy partnership would require clear benchmarks and processes for Australian investment in Indian mining, the transparent operation of energy markets, and the facilitation of two-way investments in energy and resources infrastructure.
In education, new emphasis should be placed on sharing Australia’s experience in vocational education and training, as well as on delivering Australian tertiary education in India. This wider range of education links should be developed alongside more creative arrangements for skilled labour mobility to suit the needs of the two economies. Australian institutes should consider ‘offshore’ skilling initiatives to target the demographic needs and opportunities in India.
The common character of the two countries as federal democracies should also be used as a multiplier in advancing bilateral ties. Direct relations between Australian and Indian states and cities should be encouraged, including through the sharing of best practice in state-level arrangements for service delivery and development, skilling and education.
The convening organisations agreed to hold the next meeting of the Australia-India Roundtable in Australia in 2013.