Australia-India Policy Forum 2016
Relations between Australia and India have moved into a phase of comprehensive trust and cooperation, across strategic, economic and societal issues. The challenge now is to identify and pursue the most promising areas of practical collaboration between these two Indo-Pacific democracies, while managing expectations of rapid progress to ensure the partnership’s sustainable growth.
In an increasingly complex and uncertain global security environment, Australia and India recognise each other as pillars of stability and credible, highly capable security partners. They are beginning to act on convergent strategic objectives. Important among these are a stable, rules-based and multipolar order into the Indo-Pacific region, a rules- and norms-based approach to security in cyberspace, and the defeat of terrorism and jihadist ideology. Shared security interests are now at least as important as economic opportunity in driving a deep and wide-ranging Australia-India partnership.
These were among key conclusions reached by participants at the Australia-India Policy Forum, a leading informal dialogue between the two countries, when it met in New Delhi on 29 February 2016.
The closed-door discussions involved a frank and dynamic exchange of insights to produce creative policy ideas for political leaders and officials. The delegations broadly endorsed the following ambitions and areas of focus for bilateral cooperation:
- An inclusive approach to bilateral relations, making the democratic complexity of the two countries a ‘diplomacy multiplier’: reaching beyond Federal/national governments, and into the private sector, civil society, the Indian diaspora, and State governments.
- A solid tempo of high-level visits, building on the momentum of Prime Ministerial visits in both directions in 2014.
- A recognition of the legitimate Indo-Pacific interests of both countries, typified by India’s ‘Act East’ policy and Australia’s participation in Indian Ocean arrangements.
- In the context of the changing strategic balance a recognition of the need for a regional order that was rules-based, predictable and multipolar.
- Creative ‘minilateral’ arrangements for security dialogue and cooperation among three or more countries, including with Japan, Indonesia and the United States. Delegates welcomed the trilateral Australia-India-Japan Foreign Secretaries’ dialogue as an important new fixture in regional diplomatic architecture.
- Cooperation and caucusing as lead players in regional organisations, including the Indian Ocean Rim Association and the East Asia Summit.
- An emphasis on the maritime dimension in bilateral security partnership, including high-end naval exercises and potential cooperation in surveillance and technology. Delegates welcomed the priority placed on enhanced engagement with India in the 2016 Australian Defence White Paper.
- Consultation and coordination on development assistance and disaster relief. Delegates welcomed India’s direct and rapid delivery of disaster relief to Fiji using C-17 long-range transport aircraft.
- Recognising that there can be challenges in working towards a high-quality, comprehensive free trade agreement, both sides will continue to work towards conclusion of the Australia-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement. Two-way investment would be as important as the trading relationship and its facilitation should be a priority for governments. Investment should be focused on fostering and commercialising innovation in the two economies.
- A comprehensive energy partnership including in renewables, LNG and nuclear as well as coal. Australia was becoming a key partner for Indian energy security.
- The identification of common ground for collaboration on cyber security while acknowledging the independence of each side’s perspective. Cyber security dialogue between the two countries should involve the private sector on both sides. Cyber security could be a potential area for cooperation under the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund. There was scope for cooperation in training and education to rapidly expand cyber workforces and private sector resilience.
- Cooperation in developing effective counter-narratives to extremist propaganda. India and Australia could benefit from sharing the lessons of each country’s distinct experience of counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism, including in cutting off terrorist financing. Delegates reinforced the need to defeat terrorism and radical religious ideologies within the context of democratic values and good governance on multicultural societies. The very low number of Indians reported to have become ‘foreign fighters’ in the Middle East/West Asia was noteworthy and the factors behind this success story warranted examination.
More than 25 prominent figures from diplomacy, think tanks, higher education and media took part in the dialogue, held at the headquarters of Indian think tank the Observer Research Foundation. The forum was held-back-to-back with the Raisina Dialogue, India’s premier multilateral 1.5 track dialogue, in which a high-ranking Australian delegation took part.
The Australia-India Policy Forum is an innovative composite dialogue involving both government and non-government participants. It is a successor dialogue to the Australia-India Roundtable conducted from 2008-2014. That earlier dialogue played a substantial role in helping the relationship advance beyond a challenging phase influenced by differences of perception over uranium and student welfare.
The refreshed Policy Forum would now serve to inform official dialogues such as the foreign affairs and defence ‘2+2’ process. It was also recognised as a useful complement to other quality informal dialogues such as the Australia-India Leadership Dialogue and the Australia-India Youth Dialogue.
The Forum was convened with the support of the two governments, with funding from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs and the Australia-India Council of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Its principal ‘second track’ partners with the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) and the National Security College of the Australian National University.
Delegations included serving senior officials, eminent former officials and intelligence chiefs, leading academics, think-tank experts and media representatives.
The Indian delegation included: Mr Anil Wadhwa, Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs; Mr Sunjoy Joshi, Director, Observer Research Foundation; Mr Jaideep Mazumdar, Joint Secretary (South), Ministry of External Affairs; Mr Samir Saran, Vice-President, Observer Research Foundation; Mr Ashok Malik, Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation (Indian co-chair); Dr C Raja Mohan, Director, Carnegie India; Mr Vikram Sood, former Head, Research and Analysis Wing; Ambassador Vijaya Latha Reddy, former Deputy National Security Adviser; Mr Praveen Swami, national editor (strategic and international affairs) The Indian Express; Dr Manoj Joshi, ORF; Mr Sadanand Dhume; Mr Saikat Dutta, ORF; Mr Arun Mohan Sukumar, ORF; and Mr Abhijnan Rej, ORF.
The Australian delegation included: HE Ms Harinder Sidhu, High Commissioner to India; Ambassador Richard Smith AO, former Secretary, Department of Defence; Ambassador David Irvine AO, former Director-General of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service; Ms Katherine Jones, Deputy Secretary, Attorney-General’s Department; Ms Kathy Klugman, First Assistant Secretary, South and West Asia Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT); Professor Rory Medcalf, Head of the National Security College, Australian National University (Australian co-chair); Ms Melissa Conley-Tyler, National Executive Director, Australian Institute of International Affairs; Dr John Hewson AM, Honorary Professorial Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy and former Federal Leader of the Liberal Party; Mr Mark Thirlwell, Chief Economist, Austrade; Professor Gregory Barton, Deakin University; Mr Jonathan Kenna, Assistant Secretary DFAT; Professor Roger Bradbury, National Security College; and Mr Greg Earl, The Australian Financial Review. The conveners agreed to maintain the momentum of the dialogue and hold the next meeting of the Australia-India Policy Forum in Canberra in 2017.
Rory Medcalf, Australian co-chair
Ashok Malik, Indian co-chair