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India-Australia alliance continues to strengthen

Questionable continued relations with Russia, and the safety of the Indian diaspora, were among issues addressed by Dr Jaishankar in Canberra.

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That this is External Affairs Minister Jaishankar’s second visit to Australia in eight months shows the desire by both countries in deepening their relationship. In fact, at a press conference in Canberra, Minister Jaishankar acknowledged this by noting six of his cabinet colleagues have visited Australia since June this year, among them the Minister for Coal and Mines for renewable energy, for Education, for Water Resources, our Home Minister.

“We have also seen that the Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister as well as the Deputy Premier of Western Australia, and the Premier of New South Wales have been to India with business delegations,” Dr Jaishankar added.

But this has also been the first visit by the External Affairs Minister to Australia since the UkraineRussia conflict started. Both India and Australia, though allies in the Quad, have opposite policies on this conflict.

While Australia has joined the United States and other western democracies on condemning Russia on this transgression, India has resolutely stood by Russia, refusing to join any United Nation censure of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and has continued trading and buying oil from the country.

The issue came up for comment almost as soon as questions began at the press conference. Asked about the close relationship, Minister Jaishankar clarified that India has been very clearly against the conflict in Ukraine.

“We believe that this conflict does not serve the interests of anybody, neither of the participants nor indeed of the international community,” he stated. “And as a country of the Global South, we have been seeing firsthand how much it has impacted low-income countries [in terms of] the challenges that they are facing with fuel, food, and fertilizers. My Prime Minister said a few weeks ago that this is not an era of war; a conflict today in some corner of the world can have a very profound impact on everybody across the world and I think that continues to guide our thinking.”

On the question of any changes to its relationship with Russia Dr Jaishankar reiterated the long-standing relationship with Russia, which “has certainly served India’s interests well.”

Whether the performance of Russian weapons systems in Ukraine has given India cause to think about reducing its reliance on those weapons systems, Dr Jaishankar acknowledged India has a substantial inventory of Soviet and Russian origin weapons, pointing the finger at the United States for this situation. He stated, “For multiple decades, Western countries did not supply weapons to India and in fact, saw a military dictatorship next to us as the preferred partner. In international politics, we deal with what we have; we make judgements which are reflective of both our future interests as well as our current situation. In terms of this current conflict, like every military conflict, my sense is that we are learning from it and I’m sure my very professional colleagues in the military would be studying it very carefully.”

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The only question not focussed on India, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Quad and AUKUS, centred on the safety of the Indian diaspora. Recently, India issued a travel warning for its citizens in Canada and those planning to travel there, citing a sharp increase in incidents of hate crimes, sectarian violence, and anti-India activities. The travel warning seemed to follow a Khalistan referendum voting in Brampton. This would no doubt be an area of concern for those even here in Australia, who have been witnessing growing communal tensions in major cities like Sydney and Melbourne, primarily flowing over from events taking place in India.

The Minister was asked, how concerned is India about such activities spreading internationally as the community grows, including in Australia?

In his clear and soft manner, the Minister took this opportunity to chide Canada. He said, “I want to be very clear here, when we issue travel advisories, we do so for the safety of our citizens. So I would urge you not to read something into a travel advisory which is beyond the advisory. What some other country does presumably reflects their thinking and their policies. As to the Khalistan issue that you have raised, you know from time to time, we have engaged the Canadian government. I have myself engaged my counterpart on this issue and we have flagged the need to ensure that freedoms in a democratic society are not misused by forces which advocate violence and bigotry. So, it’s important for countries to understand today how democracies should function not only at home but also the responsibilities the democracies have to other democracies abroad.”

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Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong confirmed at the press conference that Australia was opening a Consulate General for Australia in Bengaluru in 2023 and was looking forward to Dr. Jaishankar being able to finalize an additional presence here in Australia. Another issue on the agenda is the double taxation treaty between the two countries.

As part of his ongoing visit to Australia, Minister Jaishankar has met many federal ministers so far, and paid tributes at the Australian War Memorial, including a mention of Indian origin Private Nairn Singh Sailani in his recent tweet.

Pawan Luthra
Pawan Luthra
Pawan is the publisher of Indian Link and is one of Indian Link's founders. He writes the Editorial section.

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