Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bilateral visit to Australia [Nov. 16-18] which followed on the heels of the G-20 summit at Brisbane, yielded half a dozen agreements, particularly on establishing a framework for security cooperation, with an eye on the growing might of China. At his talks with Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the two Prime Ministers also decided to conclude a long pending Free Trade Pact by the end of next year. Modi also became the first Indian Prime Minister to address the Australian parliament. In a repeat of his Madison square Garden in New York, Modi one again enthralled around 20 thousand people, mostly Indians settled in Australia in the packed Allphones Arena in Sydney. In their meetings, Modi addressing the Australian Prime Minister as “Tony” and Abbott calling Modi as “my brother” spoke of the close intimacy that they have developed .

Security, trade and investment

Seeking to enhance defence ties, the two Prime Ministers during their talks on Nov. 18 decided to establish a Framework for Security Cooperation to reflect their deepening and expanding security and defence collaboration for advancing regional peace and combating terrorism among other challenges. The two countries signed five pacts on social security, transfer of sentenced prisoners, combating narcotics trade, tourism and arts and culture. At their talks, they also decided to conclude early negotiations on a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement [CECA], expedite implementation of the civil nuclear agreement and reconstitute the CEO Forum. They agreed that the pending Free Trade pact will be signed by the end of next year and an early finalization of the civilian nuclear deal that will facilitate uranium trade.

The signing of the “security cooperation” framework points to the strategic choice the two Prime Ministers have made in the wake of Beijing’s rapidly increasing influence in the Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean. The Framework binds the two countries to annual summits, including meeting of the two Prime Ministers, regular meetings of the Defence Ministers, regular bilateral maritime exercise, lose cooperation in counter-terrorism and international crimes, early operationalisation of the civil nuclear energy cooperation agreement and Australia’s support for strengthening India’s energy security by supply of uranium for India’s safeguarded nuclear reactors. The Australian Financial Review described it as “a hedge against China’s growing military power” in its front page main report.
The ambitious framework on security cooperation has 32 actionable points organized under seven heads.
Australia, according to strategic experts, is forging close ties with India another big Asian country with which it shares the ethos of democracy, after Japan and the US. Abbott’ game plan is to rope in India to form an axis that stitches together its economic and strategic interest. The AGE, a Melbourne newspaper said in a report: “This security framework ranks alongside Australia’s deepening “quasi alliance” with Japan’s rapidly tightening military ties with India and the strengthening collaboration of all three countries with the United States.”

In their joint statement in Canberra, the two Prime Ministers directed that an equitable, balanced and mutually beneficial comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement [CECA] be brought to an early conclusion. The next round of negotiations will be held in December. “The two Prime Ministers hoped for better market access for goods and services”, the statement said. Expressing satisfaction at the increase in investment, they, however, recognized the tremendous untapped potential. “Indian investment in the resource sector in Australia promise to create jobs and value for the Australian economy just as Australian investment in cold chain storage, energy, infrastructure and other sectors can do for the Indian economy.”

The joint statement said, the two countries were committed to working together to combat terrorism and transnational crimes. The two Prime Ministers agreed that the existing Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism would be renamed to over other transnational crimes, including ongoing cooperation on illegal migration. They said, the conclusion of a new Framework for Security Cooperation to guide closer bilateral collaboration cross the security spectrum, including in defence and counter-terrorism, demonstrates the unshakeable resolve of the two countries in combating and defeating terrorism including the threat posed by foreign fighters joining extremist groups.

Later in the day, on his last day in Melbourne, Modi spoke to a select group of top Australian CEOs and also addressed a business gathering of Australia India Business Council. The Prime Minister sad, this was the right time to invest in India and said he personally would ensure they did not face any hurdles. “We have worked out a fast track mechanism for public private partnership and also a single window mechanism for facilitating business:, Modi said. He said, the country was pursuing reforms to enhance the ease of business and was also on the path of improving the work culture.” “You will find a policy environment that is predictable, transparent and fair”, the Prime Minister said, adding that his government will take all efforts for faster and inclusive growth. He said, India had three Ds – democracy, demographics and demand – which make it an ideal destination for Australia. Pointing out that Indian economy grew 5.7% in the first quarter of the current financial year which is one per cent higher than the corresponding period previous year, Modi said, the OECD has projected that India will be the only large economy that will show a higher growth compared with the previous year”. India will hold a “Make in India show in Australia next year and Australia would hold Business Week in India in January, Modi said.

Greater clarity in partnership

It is hoped that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott will result in bilateral relations being upgraded and imparted with clarity. So far, despite efforts, relation shave been languishing.

For example, the civil nuclear deal that allows Australia to sell uranium to India has not been operationalised. Bilateral trade is just $15 billion, against a $40 billion target by 2015, set during former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s bilateral meeting with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2012. In comparison, Australia-China trade is $150bn and the two have just signed a comprehensive free trade deal. China therefore already has strong economic and trade ties with Australia. India has only now begun to move in that direction. India has plans to expand trade and investment in a variety of fields, primarily energy, infrastructure, mining and agriculture. A good deal will turn on this country’s ability to follow through with implementation of some of the key policies that have been adumbrated.

On the strategic side in spite of India and Australia declaring a strategic partnership in 2009, the relationship has been undefined and vague for the most part. The much talked about India-Japan-Australia-U.S. quadrilateral came a cropper, partly due to either countries’ hesitation in joining any front that may be perceived as ‘anti-China’.

India-Australia strategic framework

But according to analysts, the newly announced India-Australia strategic framework, that structures annual meetings between the leaders, defence ministers and regular exchanges between the armed forces and non-defence forces on counter-terrorism, piracy and cybersecurity, is a positive step that focusses on the shared strengths of India and Australia. The Hindu hopes that the upgraded framework will give New Delhi a clearer line of sight to Canberra, and not the position at the “periphery of our vision,” as Modi said during his address to the Australian Parliament.

The Indian Express notes that the current governments in both countries appear willing to go the extra mile. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vigorous approach to Asia is matched by his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott’s enthusiasm for partnership with India.

The paper notes that successive Australian and Indian administrations have since given shape to what may emerge soon as a key economic and security partnership in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and the Asia-Pacific — against the backdrop of a rising China, with its growing assertiveness on territorial disputes, and an uncertain US policy in the region. Even at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean)-India and the East Asia summits, Modi did his best to reassure partners of a continuing Indian interest in the Pacific Rim and the South China Sea. Security concerns, as well as the need for enhancing logistical connections, predominated, in the shadow of ever-increasing Chinese power.

Modi’s address to Australia’s parliament, wherein he described the two countries as “foremost partners” in the Asia-Pacific and the IOR, emphasised trade, investment and maritime security cooperation, and offered Australia opportunities in India’s agriculture, mining, infrastructure, manufacturing, energy and other sectors.

The paper suggests that given the bilateral enthusiasm for expanding the circle of engagement, Delhi and Canberra must initiate a joint dialogue with Indonesia and also pull Japan in to bulwark the region against the vicissitudes of China-US relations.

A major take away from the framework agreement to strengthen defence and security cooperation, according to Rory Medcalf , Senior researcher with the Lowy Institute and the incoming head of the National Security College at the Australian National University “is in maritime security and the changing power balance in the Indo-Pacific region that the greatest long-term impact of the new defence partnership will be felt. This is set to go beyond bilateralism. Abbott has already hinted at the possibility of trilateral naval exercises. It would make good sense for India and Australia to take advantage of their contiguous Indian Ocean geography, credible naval capabilities and complementary webs of partnerships to build innovative “minilateral” arrangements and exercises with Indonesia, Japan and Australia’s close ally, the United States. A geometry of overlapping triangles would be more subtle and durable than a revival of the 2007 quadrilateral.

“At times, Australia and India could cooperate with China, too, including in search and rescue, disaster relief, counter-piracy and peacekeeping. A core partnership of Australia and India could be useful in encouraging Asia-Pacific countries to get used to an Indian presence east of Malacca, as well as in managing the inevitability of a Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean”.

Further, says Medcalf the agreement goes considerably further than the security dialogue of previous governments. “It includes formal dialogue on shared concerns about East Asian security — in other words, the impact of Chinese power and assertiveness. Notably, it encompasses ambitions to develop defence industry links — a recognition in part of the great potential of the Indian defence sector as it opens to the private sector and foreign investment”. This opens the path to sharing and developing new defence technology and platforms perhaps under the idea of “made in India”.

Another area of promise, according to the analyst is counter-terrorism. The agreement is refreshingly specific about the areas of counter-terror and counter-radicalisation on which these two multicultural democracies have a pressing need to collaborate, including in the sharing of intelligence as well as methods of thwarting improvised explosive devices.