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26 February 2020

With Jonathan Pearlman

Missing out on India

In India this week, Donald Trump addressed the biggest political rally of his career. More than 100,000 people attended a “Namaste Trump” event, which was held at the world’s largest cricket stadium in Gujarat, home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Onstage, Modi and Trump shared a hug (Modi’s trademark) and exchanged lavish compliments. Both leaders are self-styled political outsiders, willing to stoke xenophobia and fan the grievances of their support bases.

And yet, ties between the United States and India remain strained. This is partly because the nationalist impulses of the two leaders inevitably lead to clashes, particularly on trade. But it is also because the United States has struggled to forge close relations with India, despite their increasingly aligned interests. Australia faces the same problem. All three nations are democracies, keen to counter Chinese domination of the Indo-Pacific. But even under Modi, these common interests have not been enough to overcome India’s reluctance to commit to international blocs.

Economically, India tends to see itself as playing catch-up to wealthier countries and therefore not obliged to obey their rules. Diplomatically, it adopts a similar position: it does not believe it needs to accommodate great powers or fit neatly into alliance structures. This helps to explain, for instance, its reticence to promote the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a security grouping involving the United States, Australia, Japan and India. Late last year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressly described “the Quad” as existing to ensure “China retains only its proper place in the world”.

Australia, like the United States, has a complicated relationship with India. For Australia, part of the problem is that it sometimes neglects ties with India and assumes that dealing with this fellow Commonwealth nation will be easy. Trade between India and Australia has grown, but should be stronger. Talks on a trade deal have continued for almost a decade, without success.

There are avenues for Australia and India to deepen ties, especially since their interests often align more closely than those shared by India and America. Both countries worry about China’s economic rise but want to avoid foreign policy positions that might anger China and jeopardise trade relations. While Scott Morrison has publicly supported the Quad, he has also downplayed its ambitions, and – unlike America – has avoided explicitly presenting it as a vehicle for containing China.

Developing a stronger relationship with India should be one of Australia’s highest priorities. Recently, Modi invited Morrison to address last month’s Raisina Dialogue, an annual geopolitics conference that Modi has backed as part of his effort to adopt a more active role in global affairs. Modi was not offering a joint rally before seas of admirers, but an opportunity to publicly advance the case for Australia and India’s shared interests in the region.

Morrison initially accepted the invitation, planning to lead a business delegation to New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. Unfortunately, however, he ended up cancelling the trip. After his infamous Christmas holiday to Hawaii, he feared leaving the country again during the bushfire crisis. Rather than miss one or two of his daily press conferences on the fires, he passed up his chance to meet Modi and address the leadership of the world’s largest democracy.

Still, he did send a message to India: when domestic politics clash with the national interest, Australia is still trying to sort out its priorities.



Re-examining the Australia–US alliance – diverging strategic interests

“The [alliance] doesn’t work well enough for either side anymore. This is not to say the alliance is at risk; rather, it is a recognition that as both of our countries and their environments are changing, so too must the commitments we make to each other.” Andrew CarrThe Strategist (ASPI)

Uncertainty grips Malaysia as Mahathir considers next move

“There are questions [about whether Mahathir] will make another comeback, or will his would-be successor, Anwar Ibrahim, cobble enough support from a fractious coalition ... Events in recent days have angered many Malaysians, who saw attempts to form a new government as a backdoor strategy for the old regime to regain power.” Amy ChewAL jazeera

The United Kingdom’s uncertain post-Brexit economic relations with Asia

“[Boris Johnson’s] government wants to diverge from Europe in order to negotiate new openings for trade with other countries. But what will the United Kingdom actually offer other countries in future negotiations? Access to the UK market is a smaller prize than access to the EU market, which it used to offer.” David VinesEast Asia Forum


Australia, in search of great and powerful friends

“Australia faces a daunting task to court more powerful friends, be it Indonesia or India ... At the same time, Australia should not give up on the US. Future US presidents may see greater value in its long-standing allies.” John West, The Interpreter (Lowy Institute)

China, Australia and a compliant new normal?

“The state of Victoria decided to shine the colours of the PRC flag across a number of Melbourne’s landmark buildings to demonstrate solidarity with Chinese-Victorians whose businesses had been avoided due to the coronavirus outbreak ... The display was strange because there are a considerable number of Chinese-Victorians who are not from the PRC, and many … could be assumed to have emigrated to Australia to get away from the CCP.” Grant WyethThe Diplomat

Free from Australian Foreign Affairs

Beyond Trump – the view from the United States

“In this century, the most contested and important domain will be the digital and information arena, where the United States and its democratic allies are already locked in an intense competition with China. The question over which country will dominate 5G technology is likely to be just the first battle in a much longer technology war that will have implications for the global economy, governance, access to information and even military conflict.” Kelly Magsamen, HERE



The withdrawal of foreign forces has been our first and foremost demand.


We’ve been over there 19 years … We want to make a deal.

Donald Trump, President (United States)

If the Taliban had support, why would they be so afraid of elections?

Ashraf Ghani, President (Afghanistan)

Sources: The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post

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