‘On the same team’

Vis­it­ing New Delhi last week, Aus­tralia’s min­is­ter for for­eign af­fairs Marise Payne spoke to Raj Chen­gappa about her mis­sion to strengthen strate­gic and eco­nomic part­ner­ships with In­dia in the Indo-Pa­cific re­gion. Ex­cerpts from the in­ter­view:

India Today - - UPFRONT -

QIn­dia-Aus­tralia re­la­tions were long char­ac­terised by mu­tual in­dif­fer­ence. Has that changed?

A. It has changed sig­nif­i­cantly in re­cent times. The tan­gi­ble as­pects of that [are in] the de­vel­op­ment of Aus­tralia’s In­dia Eco­nomic Strat­egy by Peter Vargh­ese, a for­mer high com­mis­sioner. It sets up 500 pages in great depth on the fun­da­men­tals of this re­la­tion­ship, how it has grown and will con­tinue to grow. Its rec­om­men­da­tion has been em­braced with great en­thu­si­asm by my gov­ern­ment.

Q. One of In­dia’s griev­ances is that Aus­tralian ex­ports dom­i­nate bi­lat­eral trade.

A. We are a very open mar­ket and re­cep­tive to greater In­dian en­gage­ment. Part of the work be­hind the In­dia Eco­nomic Strat­egy is to ad­dress open­ing up those mar­kets. There is a very sig­nif­i­cant fo­cus right now on com­plet­ing the Re­gional Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship (RCEP) strat­egy which will ad­dress a lot of the bar­ri­ers to more open trade.

Q. The big­gest ele­phant in the room is China, and that has im­pacted our re­la­tions. How do you view this tri­an­gle? A. China is Aus­tralia’s largest trad­ing part­ner—that is a fun­da­men­tal of our re­la­tion­ship. At the same time, we have a well-de­vel­oped en­gage­ment based on mu­tual re­spect and a ro­bust­ness where we can air our dif­fer­ences pri­vately and con­struc­tively be­cause there’ll al­ways be dif­fer­ences. But de­vel­op­ing the RCEP and en­sur­ing those mar­kets are open will con­trib­ute to the sta­bil­ity and se­cu­rity so im­por­tant to In­dia and Aus­tralia.

Q. One of the ar­eas In­dia and Aus­tralia are look­ing at is mil­i­tary re­la­tions and the quadri­lat­eral se­cu­rity ar­range­ment.

A. I have been very pleased with the progress of the meet­ings oc­cur­ring in the in­for­mal Quad ar­range­ment: the United States, Aus­tralia, In­dia and Ja­pan, to en­sure we are look­ing at those key is­sues of sta­bil­ity, se­cu­rity and pros­per­ity. We have a very strong and ex­cel­lent naval ex­er­cise with In­dia bi­lat­er­ally, AUSINDEX, and we’ll see it again this year as part of our task force visit to the re­gion, Indo-Pa­cific En­deav­our 2019. It will be the largest task force to leave Aus­tralian shores in a long time, with port vis­its in Vizag and in Chen­nai. The re­la­tion­ship build­ing be­tween the Aus­tralian and In­dian de­fence forces is very im­por­tant.

Q. Aus­tralia has fi­nally agreed to ex­port nu­clear fuel to In­dia, but it has not reached us yet. Is there a road­block on the sup­ply of ura­nium to In­dia? A. The agree­ment is ex­tant and think will progress dur­ing 2019. Our gov­ern­ment is a strong sup­porter of In­dia’s en­ergy se­cu­rity; I re­as­sured min­is­ter [Sushma] Swaraj of that. We also con­tinue to be a strong sup­porter of In­dia’s en­try into the Nu­clear Sup­pli­ers Group and that sup­port re­mains in place. Q. Are you also hav­ing a word with China on this?

A. Well, we have a lot of con­ver­sa­tions with many other part­ners but you can be as­sured of our con­tin­u­ing sup­port.

Q. Have the un­cer­tain­ties of the Trump era un­set­tled dy­nam­ics in the Pa­cific?

A. I am nat­u­rally dis­ap­pointed to see my friend and for­mer col­league Gen­eral Mat­tis leave the role of Sec­re­tary of De­fense, but I don’t see a change in the ap­proach of the Pen­tagon, of the State Depart­ment to im­ple­ment­ing the poli­cies upon which we all agree, that is con­tribut­ing to se­cu­rity and to sta­bil­ity.

Q. Your re­sponse to In­dia’s con­cerns on cross-bor­der ter­ror­ism from Pak­istan?

A. There must be no tol­er­ance of ex­trem­ist or ter­ror­ist be­hav­iour be­cause it doesn’t stay do­mes­tic, it im­pacts us all. In­dia and Aus­tralia have ex­pe­ri­enced ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­ity in our own back­yards, on our own shores, and we have to be ever vig­i­lant.

Q. What is Aus­tralia’s stand on Afghanistan and the pos­si­bil­ity of an Amer­i­can with­drawal there? A. His­tor­i­cally, Aus­tralia has made an enor­mous con­tri­bu­tion in Afghanistan in terms of the case for peace; in­deed, we have lost over 40 young Aus­tralians there. It’s Aus­tralia’s long­est con­tin­u­ous mil­i­tary con­flict. Al­though there is more to do, I think it would be of great con­cern to Aus­tralia if key part­ners were to change di­rec­tions at this point of time.

Q. And, fi­nally, on the del­i­cate mat­ter of cricket…

A. When you’re play­ing the best team in the world, it’s a plea­sure to watch their skill. I had the op­por­tu­nity to sit through ev­ery stroke of Mr Pu­jara’s in­nings in Syd­ney, and I can only pay the high­est com­pli­ments in terms of his abil­ity to with­stand the Aus­tralian bowl­ing on­slaught and the Aus­tralian on­field on­slaught. There was great re­la­tions, great repartee be­tween the two teams.

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