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India-Australia Relations: Anchoring the QUAD and Navigating the Multipolar World

Introduction

India-Australia relations have evolved significantly over the years, marked by historical milestones and shifting geopolitical dynamics. The colonial era laid the foundation for interactions between the two nations, as both were part of the British Empire. Post-independence, both nations’ paths diverged, with India gaining freedom in 1947 and Australia following suit in 1949 and in the Cold War period, the bilateral relations have been deteriorating because of India’s non-alignment stance and Australia’s engagement with Western powers. Although, tensions arose over issues like nuclear policies and regional conflicts after the end of the Cold War; the decade of ninety has marked a renewed relations focus on cooperation in several areas like trade, terrorism, democratic reforms, maritime security etc followed by India’s economic reforms. Apart from trade relations, both nations have strong people-to-people bonds due to Cricket. Australia, as India’s extended neighbour, attracts a relatively high number of Indian students. A huge number of Indian diaspora lives in Australia. In November 2009, during Prime Minister Rudd’s visit to India, the two countries decided to elevate their relationship to the level of a strategic partnership.

India and Australia cooperate in several multilateral forums. Australia supports India’s candidature for an expanded UN Security Council. Both India and Australia are members of the G20, Commonwealth of Nations, IOR-ARC, ASEAN Regional Forum, and Asia-Pacific Partnership for Climate and Clean Development and have participated in East Asian summits. Both countries also cooperated as members of the Five Interested Parties (FIP) within the WTO. Australia is a major player in APEC and supports India’s membership in the organization. In 2008, it became an observer in SAARC.

Economic ties, driven by trade in sectors like minerals, energy, and technology, along with maritime security expanded in the Indo-Pacific region with Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) members. In the rapidly evolving geopolitical landscape, the India-Australia relationship has emerged as a crucial partnership in the context of the multipolar world order. These two democracies, linked by the Indian Ocean, have found common ground in their shared values, strategic interests, and a commitment to an open, inclusive, and rules-based Indo-Pacific region.

Quad: A Sine Qua Non for India-Australia

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) is a strategic forum that brings together India, Australia, the United States, and Japan. India and Australia’s participation in the Quad reflects their shared commitment to promoting peace, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region; this also serves as a platform to deepen mutual strategic partnership and strengthen defence cooperation. In the Quad framework, India and Australia collaborate closely with the United States and Japan on a range of issues, including maritime security, counterterrorism, disaster relief, and infrastructure development. The Quad’s focus on upholding a rules-based international order aligns with India and Australia’s strategic interests in maintaining a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. India and Australia launched the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative Partnership (AIIPOIP) grant program to help support a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific underpinned by the rule of law and respect for sovereignty. The AIIPOIP grants program will help deliver practical outcomes under the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) (Australian High Commission, New Delhi 2019).

India’s inclusion in the Quad underscores its growing role as a key player in regional security and cooperation. Australia, on the other hand, brings its maritime expertise, economic strength, and strategic outlook to the Quad discussions. Together, India and Australia work with their Quad partners to address common challenges such as Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea, regional connectivity, ensuring a balance of power and maintaining a rules-based maritime order and the promotion of democratic values.

The increased militarisation of the South China Sea as well as the expansion of bilateral partnerships, underpinned by increased economic cooperation within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) (Heiduk and Wirth 2023), China is challenging the historically established order in the region. Quad holds significant importance for both nations as its emphasis on freedom of navigation, overflight, and unimpeded maritime trade aligns with the interests of both nations, given their reliance on maritime trade routes and the critical sea lines of communication (SLOCs) in the Indian Ocean. Moreover, the Quad has facilitated deeper cooperation in areas such as maritime security, counterterrorism, cybersecurity, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) operations (The Quad 2023). Regular naval exercises and coordination among the Quad members have enhanced interoperability and strengthened the strategic trust between India and Australia.

In the last five bilateral relations between both nations have grown at exceptional height. In March 2023 Australian Prime Minister Albanese visited India and talked about the strong political will from both sides as well as due to the shared concerns, interests, and vision of preserving a free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific region. The need for a free and open Indo-Pacific forms the nucleus of both countries’ foreign policies (Saha 2023).

The Multipolar World: Balancing and Converging Interests

During his visit to India in March 2023, the Australian PM said ‘Both India and Australia have realised the importance and potential of working together towards maintaining a stable regional order in the larger Indo-Pacific’ (Saha 2023). As the world transitions towards a multipolar order, India and Australia find themselves navigating a complex geopolitical terrain marked by shifting power dynamics and competing interests. In this context, their relationship has become increasingly pivotal, serving as a counterweight to the growing influence of China to ensure a stable regional balance and multipolarity of the world order. Both nations share concerns over China’s assertive behaviour in the Indo-Pacific, including its territorial claims in the South China Sea, the militarization of disputed islands, and its ambitious BRI project. India and Australia have consistently advocated for upholding the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and freedom of navigation, aligning with their commitment to a rules-based international order.

Furthermore, the rise of China’s economic and military prowess has prompted India and Australia to deepen their defence and security cooperation. Regular bilateral naval exercises, such as the AUSINDEX series, have fostered greater interoperability and strategic trust between the two nations’ armed forces. Collaboration in areas like counterterrorism, cybersecurity, and intelligence sharing has also strengthened, reflecting their shared determination to maintain regional stability and combat transnational threats.

In turbulent world politics, where the Russia-Ukraine war and Israel-HAMAS conflict are ongoing, India and Australia’s national interests often become contradictory, for instance, India has purchased refining crude oil from Russia at a relatively cheaper price but Australia, the European Union (EU) and the US didn’t like such India’s trade with Russia. However, India’s reply to them was very diplomatic and the policymakers handled the situation in the larger favour of the country’s interests. Both nations understand a multipolar world order is a prerequisite for peace, stability and development. As responsible stakeholders in the international system, India and Australia have a shared interest in promoting peace, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. By leveraging their respective strengths and working closely together, they can contribute significantly to shaping a more inclusive, balanced, and rules-based global order in the multipolar era.

The Way Forward

The evolving relationship between India and Australia is not just a bilateral affair but a strategic partnership that anchors the Quad and navigates the complexities of a multipolar world. As two major democracies in the Indo-Pacific region, India and Australia have a shared vision of promoting a free, open, and rules-based international order. The Quad has emerged as a crucial platform for addressing common challenges such as maritime security, regional stability, and ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific. India and Australia, as key members of this grouping, play a pivotal role in shaping the Quad’s agenda and initiatives, contributing to a more secure and prosperous region. Moreover, the deepening economic ties between India and Australia, coupled with their shared commitment to democratic values, human rights, and the rule of law, form the bedrock of their partnership. Collaborative efforts in defence, trade, technology, and people-to-people exchanges have strengthened the bonds between the two nations and positioned them as key players in the evolving global landscape.

As the world witnesses the rise of multiple centres of power and influence, India and Australia stand poised to navigate this multipolar world with resilience, cooperation, and strategic foresight. By leveraging their complementary strengths, fostering greater regional integration, and promoting multilateral cooperation, they can contribute significantly to shaping a more stable, prosperous, and inclusive international order. In this context, the India-Australia relationship serves as a beacon of cooperation, partnership, and shared values in a rapidly changing geopolitical environment. By anchoring the Quad and embracing the challenges and opportunities of a multipolar world, India and Australia are charting a path towards a more secure, prosperous, and interconnected future for the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. 

References

Australian High Commission, New Delhi. 2019. Australia-India Relations. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. November 2019. https://india.embassy.gov.au/ndli/Australia-India_Relations.html.

Heiduk, Felix, and Christian Wirth. 2023. “The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between Australia, India, Japan and the United States.” Stiftung Wissenschaft Und Politik 31 (June). https://doi.org/10.18449/2023C31.

Saha, Premesha. 2023. “The Growing Centrality of India in Australia’s Indo-Pacific Policy.” Orfonline.Org. March 13, 2023. https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/the-growing-centrality-of-india-in-australias-indo-pacific-policy.

The Quad. 2023. Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. September 2023. https://www.dfat.gov.au/international-relations/regional-architecture/quad.

Mr Aditya Kumar
Mr Aditya Kumar holds Master’s degree in Gandhian and Peace Studies from Mahatma Gandhi Central University, Motihari, Bihar. His area of interests are International relations, Security studies and Regional studies.
Dr Ambikesh Kumar Tripathi
Assistant Professor, Department of Gandhian and Peace Studies, Mahatma Gandhi Central University, Motihari, Bihar
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