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Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 04:50 | SYDNEY

Lifting our game in India

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17 January 2008 10:59

I argue in today's Melbourne Age that Australia needs to lift its diplomatic game and take India at least as seriously as the Chinese now do.  If news reports and informed analysis are anything to go by, China is moving closer to India's position on matters that are close to New Delhi's heart, notably its quest for international co-operation in nuclear energy. Meanwhile, although Trade Minister Simon Crean's early visit to India is a welcome step, it has been obscured by Indian media attention to Foreign Minister Stephen Smith's unfortunately-timed public confirmation of the new Government's policy not to sell uranium to India, not to mention the lingering bad blood over cricket.
 
In my Age piece I sought to underline to the Government a few of the ideas outlined in an earlier incoming government brief on this blog, notably lifting Australia's diplomatic presence in India. Australia's diplomats in India work hard and creatively, but they are under-resourced. The shiny new high commission building Mr Crean got to open in New Delhi was decades overdue. Meanwhile, Canberra has no diplomatic footprint in the rest of that huge and diverse country (yes, there are two Austrade-managed offices, but I note Canberra does not leave its diplomacy in China's regional centres to narrowly-targeted business promoters). 

As for really learning to understand Asia's second rising giant, if the Chinese see fit to train their diplomats thoroughly in South Asian languages -- and the effectiveness of Beijing's rising soft power is well known -- why does Australia, with its counterproductively penny-pinching attitude to diplomacy, see it as unnecessary?
 
Of course, I could have cut to the chase and argued simply that Australia could raise its standing with India by sticking with the Howard Government's decision to sell uranium. But Labor policy is clear on this point, and won't shift for the time being. I suspect this will be revisited one day — perhaps in the second term of a Rudd Government — especially if the two countries can find common ground on global nuclear arms control initiatives.  In the meantime, there is much to be done.

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