The era of the Indo-Pacific

Indian and Australian PMs can take satisfaction from the reinvention of the bilateral relationship
Rory Medcalf

When the haunting music of the Australian Aboriginal instrument the didgeridoo rings out tonight across New Delhi's Purana Qila, it will mark a turning point in India's relations with the land Down Under.

For this week's visit to India by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard carries an important message, symbolised in a concert combining the musical traditions of both countries.

India and Australia are now ready to recast their relations beyond what has for too long divided them, notably the strife over students and uranium.

Instead, they have a chance to define their ties as a wide-ranging partnership for the looming era of the Indo-Pacific, in which the prosperity and security of the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions are becoming entwined.

Despite all their obvious differences, these two Indian Ocean democracies now have all the elements for a future of mutual benefit, spanning trade, investment, education, science, environmental management, security and the shaping of Asia's strategic order.

When they meet, Manmohan Singh and Julia Gillard can briefly look away from their domestic political woes. (Gillard, too, has a precarious government with no parliamentary majority to speak of.) Instead, they can take some satisfaction from the reinvention of a bilateral relationship that until recently was struggling to find political and societal trust.

Australia's first female prime minister deserves particular credit for this outcome, thanks to her determination last December in staring down the left wing of her Labor party to end a decades-old ban on uranium sales to India.

This removed a major obstacle to goodwill. Now Delhi's policy establishment can look with fresh eyes at the opportunities Australia offers as a collaborator in areas ranging across energy, services, infrastructure, food and water security, as well as in diplomacy and defence.

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