Prof. RAJARAM PANDA, Senior Fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.
The 6th round of India-Australia Dialogue on Disarmament, Non-Proliferation and Export Control was held virtually this week, wherein, the two sides discussed contemporary issues of mutual interest. Both sides exchanged views on issues of nuclear, chemical, biological disarmament and non-proliferation, conventional weapons, outer space security and strategic export control. Prime Minister Narendra Modi too held the first-ever Virtual Summit with his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison in June 2020.
According to the Ministry of External Affairs, the dialogue facilitated enhanced mutual understanding and appreciation of national perspectives and global developments on non-proliferation and disarmament issues that will contribute to the India-Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.
Viewed broadly, there has been a deepening of understanding between the four-nation “Quad” members – India, the US, Japan and Australia – on a large range of bilateral, regional and global issues to maintain the existing equilibrium and check any nation unilaterally trying to disturb the regional and global order. In this context, the 6th round of dialogue between India and Australia needs to be read in continuation with the 9th round of India-Japan Consultations on Disarmament, Non-Proliferation and Export Control held virtually in February 2021. Like with Australia, India too exchanged views with Japan on a range of contemporary issues of similar nature to strengthen India-Japan Special Strategic and Global Partnership.
Also, despite differences on several issues with China, India has preferred to engage with China on similar issues and held a bilateral dialogue in June 2019 and agreed to continue the process. But what stands out with India’s relations with Australia is that bilateral ties have undergone substantive evolution in recent years, developing along a positive track, into a friendly partnership.
The two countries have much in common, underpinned by shared values of pluralistic, Westminster-style democracies, Commonwealth traditions, expanding economic engagement and increasing high-level interaction. Several commonalities, including strong, vibrant, secular and multicultural democracies, free press, independent judicial system and English language, serve as a foundation for closer cooperation and multifaceted interaction. Both India and Australia are fellow travellers in their understanding and commitment to Disarmament, Global peace, North-South Dialogue, Human rights, Environmental protection and combating International terrorism.
Both sides have honed their respective soft power elements by way of expanding people-to-people contacts, academic exchanges through both private and state-funded scholarship schemes enabling a large number of Indian students travelling to universities in Australia for higher education. There has also been a spurt in the tourism sector from either side. Both play cricket and hockey on a regular basis and the competition on the field has always been healthy.
Trade and commercial links had remained low-key for decades because of differing economic policies. Since the turn of the century, this changed perceptively and with time, the relationship gained momentum towards a strategic relationship. With the changing global scenario, Australia started to look at India as an important partner in promoting regional security and stability.
This led to up-gradation of bilateral relations between the two nations to a ‘Strategic Partnership’, including a Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation in 2009. Over the years an array of institutional mechanism has been put in place to promote bilateral cooperation through a variety of mechanism such as exchange of high-level visits, Annual Meetings of Prime Ministers of both the countries, Foreign Ministers’ Framework Dialogue, Joint Trade & Commerce Ministerial Commission, India-Australia ‘2+2’ Foreign Secretaries and Defence Secretaries Dialogue, Defence Policy Talks including Policy talks at the level of Senior Officials, Staff Talks, Energy Security Dialogue and Australia-India Education Council.
The Australian foreign policy blueprint released in November 2017 sees India in the front rank of Australia’s international partnerships. It says, “Beyond an increasingly important economic relationship, our security interests are congruent, particularly concerning the stability and openness of the Indian Ocean. Both the countries have common interests in upholding international law, especially about freedom of navigation and maritime security”. The 6th round of Dialogue on 30 March is another milestone in this narrative.