Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s recent visit to New Delhi gave India-Australia relations a major boost. In a speech at the end of the trip, Gillard stressed the “compelling” need for a robust bilateral relationship and included India in a select group of countries that matter most for Australia.
Security has been catapulted to the forefront of India-Australia relations. The two countries are planning to re-engage in a lapsed quadrilateral security dialogue, an idea initially mooted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007 with the U.S. as the fourth partner. The “arc of democracies,” as the association came to be known, was primarily motivated by a need to balance against rising China. All four states subsequently participated in a huge naval exercise codenamed Malabar off India’s east coast. However, Australia quietly scuttled the process after China registered a strong protest against the grouping. But with China’s assertiveness in the region growing, the motivation to pool military resources has again gained momentum.
Gillard and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also stressed the importance of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation, a grouping of 19 coastal countries around the Indian Ocean that India and Australia currently head. Maintaining the sea lines of communication and maritime security, especially anti-piracy efforts, in the Indian Ocean are high priorities for the organization, as well as for India-Australia relations. On the cultural front, Gillard scored a diplomatic coup by awarding the Order of Australia, the country’s highest civilian honor, to Indian cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar.