This is a terrifically exciting time to be thinking about India, and Australia is one of the most exciting places to be doing so.
India is becoming increasingly important to Australia. The new Foreign Policy White Paper makes frequent reference to the idea of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ rather than the ‘Asia-Pacific’. The notion of an Australia-India-US-Japan set of ties is gathering ground.
An India Economic Strategy will soon be launched and the India-born population in Australia has tripled since 2006.
Yet glaring and unavoidable asymmetries characterise the relationship. India has a population 54 times larger than that of Australia. Australia has a GDP per capita 7 times larger than India’s.
Australia’s engagement with India is badly undercooked. Trade remains roughly a tenth of the value of that with China and is restricted to a narrow range of goods. There is much less business activity across the boundary than one would expect.
A sense of the problem can be gleaned by scrutinising the figures for the New Colombo Plan scholarship scheme. Only eight of the 325 students who have taken or will take the opportunity to travel abroad on NCP scholarships between 2016 and 2018 focused on India. To put this in context, 17 will go to Hong Kong in 2018 alone.
Indian studies have withered inside Australian universities. Six universities taught an Indian language in 1996. Now only two do so.
I am obviously preaching to the choir. We understand these problems and many readers of this note are working to address them.
Two points stick in my mind, however: First, the scale and breadth of the challenge of engaging with India; Second the difficulty of maintaining momentum.
The Aii is addressing these issues on multiple fronts. Most recently, we have partnered with Tata Consulting Services (TCS) to launch an India Leaders Initiative in Australia. Aii and TCS are organising quarterly meetings with key individuals and organisations working in the Australia-India space. The first meeting was superb – candid, productive, and energising.
2017 has been a superb year at the Aii. 2018 will be even better.