Interaction with H.E. Ms. Harinder Sidhu, Australian High Commissioner to India
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On 15 July 2016, the VIF invited H.E. Ms. Harinder Sidhu, Australia’s High Commissioner to India, for a talk on ‘India-Australia Relations and the Way Forward’ followed by an interactive session. A broad panel of eminent security and foreign policy experts, including maritime experts and former diplomats, among others, interacted with the Australian High Commissioner.

At the outset, General NC Vij, Director VIF, complimented H.E. Ms. Harinder Sidhu for keeping the momentum of bilateral relationship, generated since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Australia in November 2014. He underscored the importance of Australia in India’s strategic calculus, especially from Asia-Pacific perspective. He reiterated Prime Minister Modi’s words “Australia will not be at the periphery of India’s vision but at the centre of its thought”.

While Australia and India long have enjoyed deep economic linkages and people to people contacts, there has been a growing convergence between the two countries on matters of security in recent years. General Vij suggested a broad range of measures as part of enhanced security cooperation with Australia, including combined efforts to secure common seas, especially in the Indo-Pacific region, tackling online recruitments by the terrorist groups, money laundering, drug trafficking etc. It may be recalled that the two countries signed to a security pact in 2009, while in 2007 they jointly participated in the ‘Malabar’ naval exercise alongside the United States and Japan. The quadrilateral naval exercise had to be abandoned later largely due to objections raised by China. The Director expressed his satisfaction over the resumption of joint military exercises with Australia, while he believed that a further expansion of the ‘Malabar’ exercise also remained a possibility.

Insofar as potential for economic cooperation between Australia and India is concerned, these are huge and need to be exploited to the hilt. Australia, with its huge reserves of uranium, is looked upon as a key player in India’s energy security. Australia and India together have a whole range of areas of economic cooperation between them which include water, energy and education, among
others. Besides, the new economic agenda of the Indian government which includes building new smart cities across India, Digital India, and ‘Make in India’, among many others, have altogether opened up new vistas of economic cooperation between the two countries. General Vij also referred to people to people relations as a key component of the bilateral relationship which demands greater attention among policy planners at both ends of the spectrum.

Reciprocating General Vij’s sentiments, H.E. Ms. Harinder responded that bilateral relationship between India and Australia has been growing; both are working together to build regional institutions. At the beginning of her speech, she referred to the recently concluded elections in Australia which returned the previous government, albeit with a slim majority. While the returned government is yet to set out its foreign policy priorities, H.E. Ms. Sidhu said that she did not foresee any notable changes to existing policies vis-à-vis India. Besides dwelling on the bilateral aspects of the relationship, the High Commissioner also shed significant light on the region and the regional security architecture.

Significantly, she set the bilateral relationship in a strategic context, including a whole range of issues affecting the Indo-Pacific region. More importantly, she explained the imperatives leading Australia to shift its focus away from ‘Asia-Pacific’ towards ‘Indo-Pacific’, a common geo-strategic construct between the two countries. The Asia-Pacific region, besides being a region of growing economic importance, is also home to a growing number of traditional and non-traditional security threats, making it imperative for the two countries to evolve a common security framework. Recognizing maritime security as the big strategic challenge in the future, she underscored the necessity of keeping sea lanes open for international trade.

In so far as maritime disputes in the South China Sea are concerned, H.E. Ms. Sidhu reiterated Australia’s commitment to regional peace and security and urged for a rule-based system of international governance. The High Commissioner however stated that Australia was opposed to taking sides on territorial disputes, an unmistakable reference to the recent decision of the Arbitral Tribunal on the maritime dispute involving China and the Philippines. Amid ongoing discussions in recent years of various proposals for regional security architecture, the hon’ble High Commissioner stressed on strengthening ASEAN-led mechanism, notably the East Asia Summit.

As regards the potential for up-scaling the bilateral relations between Australia and India, the hon’ble High Commissioner focused on deliverables, while she also laid significant stress on extending cooperation to areas which have remained underperformers so far. While identifying energy, water, education, science & Technology among areas of potential cooperation, the High Commissioner also mooted the proposal for a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CECA) between our two countries. Overall, the High Commissioner was enthused about a positive agenda dictating the future course in bilateral relationship.

A lively interactive session followed the talk. Vice Admiral Satish Soni, Amb Satish Chandra, Lt Gen Ravi Sawhney, and Mr CD Sahay, among others, interacted with the Australian High commissioner.

Event Date 
July 15, 2016
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