A metaphor for Indo-Australian relations

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A metaphor for Indo-Australian relations

Friday, 01 December 2023 | Kumardeep Banerjee

A metaphor for Indo-Australian relations

Australian, Arnold Dix, personifies healthy Indo-Australian relationship

A miracle occurred this week, when a joint effort of nearly 1000 people working like a single organism and the prayers of millions, managed to move a mountain to rescue 41 trapped workers in eighteen days. While much would be written and hours of content would be created, chronicling the death-defying, Human vs/with Nature feat, there was one of the heroes who stood out like a lone lighthouse, signalling the way to large ships in the tricky geo-political waters. Arnold Dix, an international tunnel expert from Australia had been roped in earlier in the 17-day operation to assist the evacuation process.

This expert besides, providing the necessary professional help, was perhaps the most visible face of the rescue mission, offering prayers at the temple of the local deity, beaming with confidence in his interviews with the media about the success of the mission and bringing hope to millions who prayed for the trapped miners. A week earlier, most Indians or at least cricket fans would not have batted an eyelid to lambast the Australians, as they defeated India in its dream run towards a cherished world cup. A week later Arnold Dix is a celebrated figure in India due to his ingenuity in handling the crisis.

Taking a cue, leaders at the top from both nations were also busy finalising their geo-political strategy in 2+2 dialogue for greater cooperation bilaterally and at multilateral platforms. The joint statement released after the dialogue mentioned that the Comprehensive strategic dialogue between the two nations was to ensure “both countries sharing major Indian Ocean coastlines, and sharing a positive agenda of cooperation with countries across Asia and the Pacific Ocean region, their cooperation served to reinforce an open, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific.

As the India-Australia CSP continues to deepen bilateral cooperation with a shared commitment to democracy and pluralism, rule of law, and a multifaceted bilateral agenda, the Ministers reaffirmed that gender equality is of fundamental importance and investment in the empowerment of all women and girls is critical to full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Ministers reaffirmed their support for sovereignty and territorial integrity in the Indo-Pacific, democratic values, the rule of law, freedom of navigation and flight and the peaceful resolution of disputes. The Ministers underlined the importance of being able to exercise rights and freedoms in all seas and oceans consistent with international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), including freedom of navigation and overflight, in addressing challenges to the maritime rules-based order, including those in the East and South China Seas.

They underscored the importance of disputes being resolved peacefully by international law without threat or use of force or any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo, and that countries should exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that could complicate or escalate disputes affecting peace and stability. They expressed serious concern about the militarisation of disputed features, the dangerous use of coast guard and maritime militia vessels and efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore exploitation activities.

All was happening in the backdrop of India’s close ally Sril Lanka allowing nearly $4.5 billion Chinese investment in the strategic Hambantota port town. Hambantota is literally in India’s backyard and offers strategic access to China on Indian critical infrastructure. Chinese shipping company already owns the port of Hambantota. The mention of a strong commitment by India and Australia in the joint statement was a show of recommitment to jointly address regional issues, with Chinese sharks lurking in their oceans. Perhaps Arnold was a greater symbol of what is yet to come out of the Indo-Australian relationship.

(The writer is a policy analyst; views are personal)

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