Amid the global uncertainty created by an unpredictable Trump presidency and a significantly more assertive China, WA can still benefit from efforts to maintain stability in our part of the world.
In particular, WA’s defence sector has a unique opportunity to capitalise on successive Commonwealth Government policies to build closer defence ties with India — the world’s next great power after the US and China. Last month, Australia sent a high-profile delegation to India’s flagship global security conference, the Raisina Dialogue. For the past four years, defence experts have begun their year by converging on New Delhi for the dialogue, and taking stock of global defence and security issues.
At this year’s dialogue, Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Force Chief Angus Campbell made their views clear: Australia’s ongoing security and prosperity is increasingly linked to closer defence co-operation with India. Over the coming decade, India will become the world’s most populous nation, and soon after will boast an economy the size of the US.
Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an emboldened India has begun to play a more active global leadership role. Significantly, India shares with Australia a support for international trade, democracy and a commitment to the rule of law.
India’s rise will help provide balance to the global system, currently under some strain as the US and China clash over trade, and enter a period of strategic competition.
At Raisina, before ministers and defence chiefs from around the world, Senator Payne welcomed India’s growing defence role — particularly in the Indian Ocean. Going further, she stated that Australia’s defence engagement with India would be the cornerstone of the nation’s 2019 Indian Ocean activity. Already, the number of Australian defence activities with India has nearly quadrupled over the last five years.
None of this increased defence co-operation happens overnight. Successive Australian governments have worked hard to enhance the Australia-India relationship. This included the signing of a Strategic Partnership in 2009, paving the way for increased defence and intelligence collaboration.
With India now in the world’s top five defence spenders, opportunities are arising for Australia’s defence sector. As the only Australian State to have a capital city and a defence industry presence on the Indian Ocean, now is the time for WA to take advantage of this growing defence alignment.
Specific opportunities for WA’s defence sector include in specialist equipment provision, marine defence services and cyber security, as well as across defence science, research and development.
As the number of Australia-India joint exercises increases, so will the number of senior Indian delegations and naval visits to WA. Furthermore, with WA holding the critical minerals required to produce future defence technologies, India can be a strategic trading market.
These opportunities align with the WA Defence and Defence Industries Strategic Plan, launched late last year at the Perth USAsia Centre-convened WA Indo-Pacific Defence Conference. This State Government roadmap was well received by Indian delegates at the Raisina Dialogue, and rightly envisages aligning WA’s economic growth imperatives with a changing global strategic environment. As such, India’s increasing maritime operations in the Indian Ocean should inform WA’s future investment decisions.
WA has a long history of capturing economic opportunities in North-East Asia, namely Japan, Korea and China. As WA seeks to diversify its economy, the State can take advantage of the next wave of opportunity coming from our north-west.
With India now more important to Australia than Australia is to India, the initiative needs to come from us. Enhanced defence sector partnerships provide an opportunity to continue securing not only the nation’s strategic future, but also WA’s economic future.
This article was originally published on The West Australian on the 6 February 2019.
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