In early May, the Perth USAsia Centre had the privilege of hosting Distinguished Fellow and former DFAT Secretary Peter Varghese AO, to discuss India’s growth trajectory and the implications for its strategic policy and regional relationships. At a private roundtable luncheon Mr Varghese also launched the Centre’s latest publication, India in APEC: Views from the Indo-Pacific
, a Special Report examining regional perspectives on whether India should become a member of APEC. Also contributing to the discussion was Ambassador Anil Wadhwa, Chair of the Confederation of Indian Industry’s Task Force on the development of an Australia Economic Strategy
for the Indian Government.
Mr Varghese, architect of Australia’s India Economic Strategy
and a former High Commissioner to India, drew from his rich experience and official articulations in the Strategy to discuss India’s foreign policy pursuit of ‘strategic autonomy’. Varghese argued that India’s strategic thinking will be shaped by six key factors:
- A firm attachment to strategic autonomy and to preserving maximum freedom of action. India will be guided by its own interests as it builds strategic ties with a range of countries, including many with which Australia and other western countries have limited strategic congruence.
- Deep strategic competition with China, not just as a neighbouring state but also in relation to China's broader regional ambitions and influence.
- Increasing strategic cooperation with the United States and its allies in the region such as Japan and Australia. India is unlikely to enter into formal alliances, but the combination of strategic congruence and shedding the straitjacket of non-alignment has created the space for deeper collaboration.
- Continued support for the liberal international order, although not extending to support for United States exceptionalism. India will want the international order to better reflect the power distribution of the contemporary world. India will not be bound by rules in which it had no say in establishing.
- A commitment to significantly increasing its defence capability to buttress its strategic autonomy. This will add to its strategic weight. India wants to import less defence equipment and produce more domestically, including through joint ventures.
- Cautiousness about pressing a human rights agenda in its bilateral relations; and little interest in an international policy of promoting democracy. Moreover, it will hold to this caution notwithstanding its own considerable domestic credentials in relation to human rights and democracy.
In launching the India in APEC: Views from the Indo-Pacific
Special Report, he noted closer collaboration between Australia and India could come from greater Australian support for Indian membership of APEC. According to Varghese, “India’s absence from APEC is today an anomaly which should be fixed
.” The significance of both sides of Australian politics endorsing the Strategy’s recommendation to enhance Australian support for Indian membership was highlighted during the discussion.
The Special Report surveys regional perspectives on India’s prospects for APEC membership. While India is increasingly cognisant of the need to enhance its trade and investment ties, its liberalisation process will continue to occur in its own time and on its own terms. In the Special Report, a range of leading analysts from India and six APEC countries unpacked the varied range of interests, objectives and agendas informing regional views on this important issue.
Importantly, a common thread throughout the Special Report is that Indian membership of APEC is in the strategic and economic interests of many Indo-Pacific nations. Many of the authors stated that India’s emergence as a great power means it should be included in the region’s premier economic forum, and that India’s membership could help balance emerging tensions within APEC and across the region.