Raisina’s three lessons for the next Australian government

By Sonia Arakkal

Policy Fellow Sonia Arakkal attended the Raisina Dialogue from 25 to 27 April, 2022.

1. Need to bridge divisions between Europe and Indo-Pacific views on China

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, set the tone of the dialogue with a keynote address reflecting on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its implications for international security. With Indian Prime Minister Modi in the front row, Von der Leyen avoided directly criticising India’s position on Ukraine but urged ‘all members of the international community to support our efforts for lasting peace’. India’s position on Russia was to become a recurring theme of the dialogue.

The foreign ministers of Norway, Luxemburg and Sweden went as far as to pressure S Jaishankar, India’s Minister of External Affairs, on his country’s reluctance to condemn Russia. His response skirted around the issue, by returning serve through calling out Europe’s lack of understanding or meaningful engagement with the Indo-Pacific. At one point he said:

If I were to put those very challenges in terms of principles, when a rules-based order was under challenge in Asia, the advice we got from Europe is: do more trade. At least we are not giving you that advice. And in Afghanistan, please show me which part of the rules-based order justified what the world did there?

The tone of European engagement on security challenges in the Indo-Pacific suggests there is a long way to go to in growing European understanding of the region’s complex dynamics. Rather than drawing parallels between the threat Russia and China posed to the global order, some seemed to be differentiating the two. To many at the dialogue, Xi Jinping seems reasonable compared to Putin. As one European think tanker described it: “Putin has been a serial crosser of red lines whereas Xi Jinping is only a scratcher of red lines.”

Australia’s diplomatic community should pay special attention to comparisons between China and Russia made at multilateral forums, noting specifically the different levels of concern regarding security in the Indo Pacific. If Australia wants Europe to be on the same page when it comes to the Indo Pacific, it needs to step up engagement.  Given the differences in the threat landscape and geographical distance, Australia will have to dig deeper to find new areas for engagement in Europe to strengthen ties and ensure its leaders truly understand our concerns.

2. Technology companies are now major foreign policy players

Historically, foreign policy conferences such as Raisina are sponsored by defence companies like Boeing, Raytheon or BAE Systems. However, this year Raisina’s line up of sponsors was notably made up of major tech companies including Meta, Twitter, Uber and Netflix. There were a number of panels on data, digitisation, and technology regulation. A representative from one of the sponsors was on most panels, providing corporate perspectives on the issues.

From Quad cooperation to discussions on soft power, big tech was platformed as a credible commentator on foreign policy

It was rumoured that the total absence of Russian officials from Raisina could be explained as much by the threat of technology sponsors pulling out of the dialogue as protests by the US or European governments.

The key point is that technology companies are now stakeholders in the foreign policy debate.

Big tech understands it needs to be a shaper of foreign policy to keep its interests at the forefront of decision making by governments and to avoid the chilling hand of regulation. This year, Australia will resume hosting in-person foreign policy conferences, most notably the Sydney Dialogue – an annual summit for emerging, critical and cyber technologies. It will be essential that Australia ensures technology companies are included in the discussion, however, think tank and government organisers should also be wary of their influence and potential for regulatory capture.

3. Non-US and non-official views are important in the contemporary geopolitical context

Given the traditional strategic significance of the US, it was surprising that only three current American officials were platformed at Raisina: Anne Neuberger, Ely Ratner, and Lindsey Ford. The American ‘track 2’ presence was, however, sizeable.

Whether by a lack of invitation, availability, or interest, the low turn-out of US officials could be indicative of two trends. Firstly, that we are truly entering an age of multipolarity where US perspectives no longer dominate, and their currency is on par with European and Indian views. Secondly, as we delve deeper into a period of geopolitical instability, track 2 representation becomes increasingly important and possibly a preferred form of diplomatic engagement. When officials are constrained or risk walking a tightrope on contentious, geopolitically defining issues, a country can deploy its think tank and academic community to engage more freely in unconstrained dialogue. 

The prime lesson for Australia is that, while we see the US Alliance as central to our regional outreach in the Indo-Pacific, this should not be our default setting in an increasingly multipolar world.

Australian engagement with countries in the Indo Pacific, such as India, should be grounded in an understanding of their worldview and America’s place in it. A secondary lesson is that the Australian think tank community is a strategic asset on the world stage and has an important role to play in keeping pace with shifting strategic dynamics and prosecuting the diversity of Australian viewpoints.

After more than two years of interrupted connectivity, the Raisina Dialogue was a critical opportunity for countries throughout the world to reconvene on shared global challenges. There are particularly timely lessons for Australia from the dialogue, lessons that the incoming government – new or returned – should consider in the lead up to the next big international meet.

Subscribe to our email list

Subscribe to our email list and stay up to date with our latest news and events. Unsubscribe any time.