A Fresh Start for India-Australia Cooperation
The recent visit to India by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard creates an auspicious opportunity for a new beginning in the somewhat not-so-good relations between India and Australia of the past few years. The ban imposed by Australia on sale of uranium to India, along with several unfortunate incidents of deadly attacks on immigrant Indians, mostly students, in the recent past has marked a low point between the two countries. But Gillard's visit has paved the way for a new chapter in bilateral ties, with the decision to conclude a civilian nuclear-energy cooperation agreement a marked departure from the past. It was only in the last year that Gillard's Labour Party overturned the longstanding ban on selling uranium to India even for use in its ongoing peaceful nuclear programme, dedicated to filling energy requirements and medical research. While the actual supply of nuclear fuel will have to await yet to be concluded negotiations on a safeguards agreement, the important positive element for India is an implicit recognition of India's solid nonproliferation record, as well as its role as a responsible key player in the region, particularly at a time when the geopolitical focus is generally said to be shifting east.
The nuclear issue has been a major hurdle between the two nations, one that has blocked the leveraging of a number of other mutual interests. Now that this impediment has been removed, both countries will be encouraged to move on to new areas of agreement. As both India and Australia are potential contributors toward ensuring peace and progress of not only the east but also of the world as a whole, their bilateral relations must not remain confined to uranium sales. There are several emerging fields which demand their collective efforts. These areas of cooperation include expansion of education, agricultural development, and developing technology for producing clean energy, along with maritime security. India must learn from Australia's sound and stable economic system, which has remained unaffected by the global economic recession.
Australia is one of the few countries which has largely maintained its upward economic progress even in recent troubled times. Progress and growth in mining and other industries such as scientific and technical services, education, finance and insurance etc., particularly characterise the country's well-founded and strong economic base. Obviously, India can derive great economic benefits from cooperation with Australia. Australia can also extract huge economic advantage from its investments in very large Indian markets.
Indian immigrants are present in Australia in significantly large numbers. The Australian government has taken appropriate steps to check hate crimes against Indian students and ensure their safety, efforts which have been well acknowledged both in Australia and India.
In the wake of Premier Gillard's overture, both countries can proceed quickly in further improving economic cooperation, along with other areas of interest as well. This fresh thrust in their bilateral relations is likely to prove to be a historic landmark for both India and Australia.
Dr. Tripathi is associate professor of Political Science at MDPG College, Pratapgarh, India.