Australia is torn between two worlds – it has an unchanging alliance with the USA, but it is placed in the middle of a massively changing region, the Indian Ocean. The two can make life uncomfortable.
We are all expecting life to be somehow different after Covid-19. Perhaps one of the differences will be Australia looking more to the west – to the Indian Ocean.
If so, there will be a lot of diplomatic wriggling to be done, with China and the USA looking on.
Why does the Indian Ocean matter so much?
One third of the world’s population (2.5 billion) live around the Indian ocean rim. Their average age is below 30, making it the youngest region on earth.
This ocean is critical to global trade and food and energy security.
There are a dizzying array of global strategic and regional military and security interests.
It is at the crossroads of how the world works. Global trade and economic growth flow in and through it.
But it is also a region where instability and conflict can quickly arise – badly drawn borders create disputes, internal conflicts are rife and competing national interests make for a volatile region.
Why is the Indian Ocean so important for Australia?
First, it’s our neighbourhood.
Second, we are starting from way behind for we have long ignored this region and only recently have been building solid bridges.
Third, one-third of Australia’s coastline borders the Indian Ocean.
Fourth, our future depends on security of lines of trade and the development of both on-shore and off-shore assets – these hold the key to our economy and development.
Fifth, when you look at this Wikipedia map of the “western world” you might wonder why we have not looked to the Indian Ocean before.
Best of both worlds?
Looking west to the Indian Ocean does not mean we have to ignore our powerful friends – China to the north and USA to the east.
Changing our view while keeping our old friends will take diplomatic skill.
And probably it also takes time.