Australia wants ’strategic partnership’ with India (Roundup)

September 11th, 2008 - 11:42 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghNew Delhi, Sep 11 (IANS) Drawing on shared values of two democracies, cricketing analogies and their growing economic and military ties, Australia Thursday sought to elevate its relations with India to a “strategic partnership”.”Just as India now looks to the east, so too must Australia look to the West, increasing the scope for regional cooperation between India and Australia,” Australia’s visiting Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said.

Smith on a four-day visit to the country, his maiden one as foreign minister, outlined the growing bilateral ties in a lecture at the Indian Council of World Affairs on ‘Australia and India: a new partnership in the Asia Pacific century’ here Thursday evening.

Later, he called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Friday he is scheduled to meet his counterpart, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, during which the two sides will discuss the entire gamut of bilateral relations.

“The complementarity between our countries rests on much more than the English language, cricket, hockey, burgeoning economic, educational and scientific linkages,” Smith said.

“That complementarity rests on profound values and virtues we have in common, including democracy, pluralism and the rule of law,” he added.

“They include our shared wish to play constructive roles in regional and world affairs,” he stressed.

Smith, who is part of the Labour government in Australia, said that since it came to power nine months back, there have a number of high level visits between the two sides to deepen and strengthen ties at the political, economic and military levels.

“We are natural partners, but we should be strategic partners,” he said.

The Labour government in Australia is largely perceived as pro-China, perhaps because its Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is a fluent speaker in Chinese. But Smith went into details of the common interests and concerns that Australia shares with India and its desire to place New Delhi on “the front ranks” of its foreign policy.

“Today the world sees India, the largest parliamentary democracy, assuming the global influence on which its economic size and strength, its strategic weight and its rich history, entitle it,” Smith said.

He said there was a possibility of a year-end visit by Prime Minister Rudd to India and publicly announced Australia’s support to see India getting a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council and in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation when its moratorium is lifted in 2010 and new members are taken in.

Smith sought to play down Australia’s refusal to supply uranium to a non-signatory of the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty like India, saying it was a “long standing” policy that was “well-known”.

He pointed out the “positive role” played by Australia - both at the International Atomic Energy Agency when India signed the safeguards agreement on Aug 1 and the support to get a consensus for a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group in Vienna last weekend.

The foreign minister said relations between the two countries had matured to an extent where they were able to take these differences in their stride.

“We respect India’s stand for not signing the NPT. But we expect our stand of not supplying uranium to a non NPT country will also be respected,” Smith said.

He admitted that in the past Australian governments had failed to pursue their relations with India “vehemently” and joked that instead of a Twenty20 cricket where one can see “short bursts of enthusiasm” he wanted ties with New Delhi to be like a Test cricket match where serious efforts are made to “extend partnerships”.

Nearly 50,000 students from India are studying in various colleges and universities in Australia and Smith described them all as “life-time friends” and “ambassadors” of Australia in India.

Referring to the steady growth of the Indian economy and projections that it may well become the third largest economy by 2025, the foreign minister said, “Australia is fortunate to be an active part of this economic transformation. Not just a bystander.”

The two-way trade between India and Australia is now over $11 billion and Australia is now India’s 10th largest trading partner.

Smith pointed out that though products like gold and coal, copper and diamond will continue to dominate Australian exports to India for some time, the trade between the two sides in information technology, bio-technology, education, tourism, finance, mining and construction were also becoming prominent.

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