India and Australia set a course to lead in the Indian Ocean

Last Thursday a “virtual” meeting set the course for the Indian Ocean region.

Australia’s PM Scott Morrison and Indian PM Narendra Modi met online.

Both shared the same problem – how to ensure security in “our” Indian Ocean region when China is becoming so active there.

These two leaders have ensured that for decades the two countries will become even closer strategic friends, and that both will lead in determining power in the Indian Ocean.

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Neither country ever expresses expansionist plans. Both just want the freedom and security they cherish.

This is a real boost to the India-Australia relationship because, let’s face it, there has not been much spark of interest between the two countries. Lots of words, but nothing tangible. Modi and Morrison have changed all that. Now it is real.

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What security deals came out of the meeting?

First, allowing reciprocal access to each other’s military bases for logistics support such as refuelling and maintenance. Sounds mundane, but it is a key step to closer military exercises and training.

Second a maritime cooperation agreement supporting the “rules-based” maritime order in the region, founded on respect for the sovereignty of all nations and international law, particularly the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. “Rules based” means “not China”.

Third, an agreement to cooperate on critical cyber and other technologies.

There were six other agreements and commentators are saying the two leaders found many ways of implying that “this is all about China”.

But I think it is really about the future of the Indian Ocean.

The two countries – India and Australia – have middle level defensive capacities and could unite a string of countries in the region in some form of security net. Likely additions would be Vietnam and Indonesia.

It will be values based. Modi told Morrison, “it is our sacred responsibility to uphold and protect values for global good like democracy, rule of law, freedom, mutual respect, regard for international institutions and transparency.” These values, he said, were under challenge.

This Indian Ocean deal could make the region one of stability at a time of China’s rise to power and the unpredictability – and decline – of the USA.

 

Stop seeing India through the lens of someone else’s trade war

Things get a bit biased in the west, and right now China is seen by politicians as a negative – even if most western economies rely on China trade.

The mythology from politicians is that their country – including Australia – should look at “diversifying” trade targets away from China.

Thinking of India as an “alternative” to China is a bit disrespectful of India and setting up for failure. Seeing India for what it is – a really good opportunity but on a different scale to China – will lead to better commercial and political decisions.

Let’s not look at India through the lens of someone else’s “trade wars”.

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When it comes to the world, China is the big game. India and Indonesia are also in the game and worth playing with, but each needs to be respected for what it is.

Take the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper which reported that growth in demand through to 2030 from China would be greater than that from the US, Japan, India and Indonesia combined. China’s rapidly expanding middle-class market is the big market.

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Even the Peter Varghese report on India’s potential showed that by 2035, Australia might export $45 billion of products and services to India. That would be great news! But compare that figure of $45 billion (and it’s 15 years off) with last year when Australia exported more than $160 billion to China.

When we remove the blinkers of politics, we can treat each country with respect and see the actual opportunity they represent.

We can open our eyes to a better view of trade – seeing it as part of the overall relationship of friendship with trading partners.

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Why Australia makes diplomatic errors in Asia – Article 1

Australia’s biggest challenge in relating to Asia is culture.

OUR culture, not theirs.

We have seen it recently with China and our call for an inquiry into the origins of Covid19 – surely a topic for behind the scenes diplomacy but it became a public fight and still bubbles along.

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In our culture “if I am right, I will speak up, name and shame”.

In Asian culture, if I am right, I might speak but only “around the bush” and in a way that “saves face” and preserves relationship.

This is no small difference – it is the gulf that divides us from reaching our potential in our region.

“Saving face” is a part of Asian culture – so pointing the finger when something has gone wrong is the last thing we should do – better outcomes come from cultural awareness.

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We all know the best diplomacy happens behind closed doors. The above might explain why so much of Australia’s diplomacy is conducted on the front page and the TV news.

This is the first in a series on “Why Australia makes diplomatic errors in Asia”.

Will Australia’s vision swing to the Indian Ocean rim after Covid-19?

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.

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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.

 

India – how Australia’s trade will change and how we should communicate

In the 1990’s, Australia sold India coal and LNG. We also sent over copper, lead and gold, along with unprocessed foods such as chickpeas, lentils, almonds and oils.

According to India veteran Michael Moignard (pictured) of East West Advisers, it was the beginning of our trade relationship with India – so that makes it very recent.

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In the 2000’s our trade has shifted – uranium is in there but taking the prize has been education in the form of fee-paying students in Australia. Along with this has been IT and processed foods, with wine and packaged goods finding a market. Finally, Indians discovered Australia as a tourist destination.

So, what will the 2020’s look like?

Michael Moignard was our Senior Trade Commissioner in Delhi for 7 years, so it was good that he gazed into the crystal ball at a recent India seminar at BDO. This is what he saw:

“Sustainability” will become a big theme, covering services and products around water, waste, renewables and smart cities. That’s a big shift.

Education will continue to dominate but with a move to skilling India’s workforce – in India. And IT will blossom into IoT, Ai and more.

Continuing strong will be wine, packaged goods and tourism.

In short – it’s a good picture for Australia. Hope you are ready to participate!

Mike’s advice on how to approach India:

  • Don’t just think about selling your product and services to India (just sales and profits should not be the only motive)
  • Work together to create relationships, trust and mutual value (Indians value trust and personal relationships)
  • Ensure Indian counterparts understand you are there for the long haul…and not just for short-term profits
  • Don’t give the impression that your India strategy is just a diversification from China (and India is definitely not the next China)

Oh, and his final tip, use the phone much more and the emails much less.

 

“Namaste Trump” good diplomacy for India but differences with USA remain

Can India make the most out of US President Donald Trump’s visit?

“Namaste Trump” this week been a great visit for India and looks to have been celebrated across the nation. Two leaders of great democracies.

But differences still exist, and the question is can India and PM Modi build on President Trump’s historic visit which took place this week?

PM Modi will drive the relationship, but he is not alone.

One man in South Block — Harsh Vardhan Shringla, India’s foreign secretary – will make a big contribution to the outcome.

India’s foreign secretary is seen as a calm and composed officer, and he has handled bilateral ties even during turbulent times as the Indian ambassador to the US.

It was he who dreamed up and led the “Howdy, Modi!” event in Houston.

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Now he has a lot of the responsibility of making “Namaste Trump” a success.

What will be the big issues? Top of the list is a free-trade agreement and disagreements on intellectual property rights. Plus how both countries feel about and react to China.

But clearly Namaste Trump is a big win for India and PM Modi and a mark of the increasing respect India has on the global stage.

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Indian PM Modi and US President Trump – two men who enjoy centre stage and get on well

How Indian use of English can show cultural differences among English speaking nations

A recent headline in the Economic Times read: “India budget – what all has the Government promised”.

For western English speakers, the “what all” demonstrates a slight difference in how English is used in India. I am not saying anyone is right or wrong here, but language can remind us that although we might speak English, we think first as a westerner or an Indian or other part of Asia. Western media would say “what has the government…”

At the least it is entertaining – at most it provides cultural insights.

At functions in India you will see two signs “Veg and non-veg”. This shows how important food choices are over there.

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Pictured is the vegetarian Jumbo King Food outlet in Mumbai

Young Indians will often refer to non-relative individuals as “Auntie” or “Uncle” as a sign of affection.

“Timepass’ is a terrific Indian-English creation – used to describe a Bollywood movie or TV show that was just OK. How was the movie – Oh you know, timepass.

When an Indian talks about “mugging” it is generally not about thugs or criminals – it describes rote learning, memorising, cramming.

In a crowded country, “kindly adjust” is a common phrase which means “sorry about any inconvenience but there is not much I can do about it now”. Especially useful on trains.

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Pictured is Ahmedabad station where “kindly adjust’ comes in handy

Conversations can often include “rest is fine” which comes after a short description of what is happening in your life and “rest is fine” is an all purpose summary of the rest.

“What is your good name” is one I love – such a respectful way to ask a person’s name.

Brian Johnston recently wrote in this topic in Traveller.

He said a simple sign in a Delhi temple said “Ill manner of all kinds is intolerable”. Admonishment or observation? Intolerable, but is it tolerated?

Indians, he says, have a Shakespearean knack for new variations of words – upgradation, pin-drop silence, and “Mention not!” when you offer praise.

More – she is pulling your legs. Pay attention on. Discuss about. She’ll be knowing the answer.

How about “Don’t prepone it – do the needful!” By the way, “Prepone” is much shorter than “”Do you want to bring our meeting forward a day?” Prepone is now in the Oxford English dictionary.

Words such as hullabaloo, hoary, gallivanting, thrice and scurrilous continue to thrive in India.

Johnston says: “Indian English conforms to its own proper rules of grammar and vocabulary”.

He makes the point that English is no longer controlled by the small number who originally spoke it. Native speakers of English (450 million) are way outnumbered by non-native speakers (at least 1 billion).

In India you can order “hot hot coffee”. A travel guide might refer to the wonderful India Gate in Delhi as “big and enormous” – that is huge!

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(I am pictured in November in front of the “big and enormous” India Gate in Delhi)

China of course has its own English, often dispensing with subjects (can or can not!) or verbs (this chilly crab delicious).

India and China both use “is it” in questions – “you are leaving now, is it?”

On the road in India is entertaining – “Horn please!” is the instruction on mountain bends and on the back of trucks. “Faster will see disaster” it a beautiful use of English as is “Always alert, accident avert”. Also – “Road is hilly, don’t be silly”

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Pictured above – colourful back end of a truck in India

My favourite is the sign off used in emails and letters – “We will revert with the necessary”. Says it all.

(Thanks in part to Brian Johnston and Traveller 1 February 2020)

The Belt and Road Initiative and the Geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific Region

David Morris is a former Australian diplomat and current expert/advisor on regional issues, risk and international relations. He recently wrote on “The Belt and Road Initiative and the Geopolitics of the Pacific Region” published in Research on Pacific Island Countries, Social Sciences Academic Press (China), 2019.

The Belt and Road Initiative has become associated with a geopolitical “China threat” discourse in the South Pacific, he writes.

Are China and Australia, the dominant regional player in the South Pacific, driven by geopolitical imperatives to compete for power? Or do their different geopolitical needs provide opportunity for cooperation that is mutually beneficial and manages risks in the region?

As a commentator on India and the Indian Ocean, I can see much of what David Morris writes could be applied to the Indian Ocean rim countries.

Morris analyses supposed Chinese “threats” as well as risks to China, including fears of a military base in Vanuatu, Chinese debt-funded projects in Tonga and closer economic cooperation with Papua New Guinea.

He concludes that it is feasible for Australia to meet its geopolitical imperatives if its regional security leadership can be maintained.

A geopolitical analysis of China in the South Pacific concludes that China is unlikely to seek regional security leadership if it can ensure access to trade routes and markets.

If Australia could move beyond geopolitical rhetoric, it should therefore be possible for Australia to partner with China to support sustainable development, mitigate risks and ensure broader stability of the South Pacific region, he writes.

With large doses of common sense, Morris writes that Australian activity could be complementary to China’s BRI, and that while there are political risks, the two countries could cooperate to reduce risk and ensure projects are sustainable.

This would be great – but my view is a big barrier to anything Australia does in our region is always its world view of “goodies and baddies” with the USA as the major “goody” and China the current “baddy”.

It would be great if influential countries like India, Australia and China could create a new collaborative model that brings real development to those poor communities in our region.

Is this possible?

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How should you start a speech?

I have just had three wonderful weeks in India. I made some speeches. I listened to a lot of speeches.

I was asked: “What is the best way to start a speech?”

We all know the bad ways. For example, someone just reads from their powerpoint. Or someone is checking the microphone.

But from Conor Neill from Ireland I have long applied these three ways to start a speech:

Ask a QUESTION

My recent topic has been How to Communicate and Survive during Industrial Revolution 4.0. So some times I start with “How will you keep your job when robots take over?” The question should be about a problem your audience faces.

State a FACT

Find some amazing fact that leads to your topic. One of Conor’s favourites is “There are more people alive today than have ever died”. If the fact shocks, even better. With my topic I use “over 65% of the kids in school right now will find jobs that have not even yet been invented.”

Begin a STORY

“I was in India recently and I met a person who said something which changed how I think about communication and leadership”. The audience is keen to hear what that “something” was. It should connect to your topic.

So, that’s the beginning.

Then, I suggest you have a long pause every 5 minutes or so (shorter if you like) and use another beginning and bring the audience along again using one of these three starters.

Good luck! (equals good preparation).

The harsh truth about how Australia has made a mess of relations with India

Scott Morrison has a huge challenge ahead as he travels to India. As leading Asia commentator, Greg Sheridan, has written in The Australian, Morrison “needs to fundamentally reset the relationship.”

In my almost two decades now of connection with India, I have seen first-hand how badly Australia has dealt with India – and this goes for government, education and business. You could possibly put in the arts and culture too.

As Sheridan says: “There is no relationship of such importance that Australia, historically, has managed so badly.”

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Check out how Sheridan describes India – “By 2035 India will have more people than China. All forecasts are fallible, but it is widely thought that by 2030 India will be the world’s third largest economy. India commands ­immense soft power and cultural richness. In any bookshop there are novels written by Indians from India, and Indians in the diaspora. A chunk of the British and Canadian cabinets are of Indian origin. The US has had two ethnic Indian state governors, Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley. Both became nat­ional figures. The best Australian film this year was Hotel Mumbai.”

One big hurdle for Aussies is that since independence India has been very close to Russia (and still is) and has the capacity to maintain close relations with countries we do not like.

Australia has a “goodies and baddies” approach to the world – whereas India does not make the same judgements. We need to work with this.

Sheridan provides the first accurate statement of how bad things have been – “…over many decades, Canberra comprehensively messed up the Indian relationship and achieved radically sub-par outcomes in our own interests. The three great non-Chinese Asian powers are India, Japan and Indonesia. They are critical to geo-strategic and economic balance in the Indo-Pacific. We have a deep relationship with Japan. We pay a lot of attention to Indonesia. But the work with India is almost all ahead.”

Are we up for this challenge? I am not sure. Canberra is so Washington focused, and China preoccupied, that India does not rate enough.

Sheridan wants Australia to try again for a free trade agreement with India. I love the idea, but I have little confidence we can achieve it. In my time with India, Australian diplomats have blamed India for every delay and the fact that we did not get a deal. I have talked to the Indians and am not so sure the blame was so one sided. The question is – can Australia adapt and become more flexible with India? If we can, we might just snare an FTA.

Well done Greg Sheridan for such insights in Australia’s relations with India.