Event ReportsPublished on Jul 26, 2017
We must continue to engage closely with China: Australian FM

Observer Research Foundation and the Australian High Commission organised the Second Indo-Pacific Oration in New Delhi on 18 July 2017. The speaker was the Foreign Minister of Australia, Madam Julie Bishop.

Madam Bishop began her address by saying she was delighted to be back in India and among friends, as always in this great nation. She said she had productive meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Minister for Defence and Finance Jaitley, and Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, and these meetings added to the deep and growing friendship.

She said two years ago, she had Australia’s increased focus on the Indian Ocean and at that time itself she had embraced India’s role as an emerging great power and likeminded partner in the region and beyond.

In the intervening period, Australia and India’s bilateral relationship has continued to strengthen, especially in the strategic and security spheres.

In June, Australia and India conducted our bilateral naval exercise, Ausindex, for the second time, on this occasion off the coast of Perth, where my electorate is situated. “In fact, the western boundary of my electorate is the Indian Ocean — so I call Perth Australia’s Indian Ocean capital,” she said.

She went on “Here’s an historic fact - South of Perth is a town called Australind. It was founded in 1841 and its name derived from a combination of “Australia” and “India” for Australind was to be an area for breeding horses for the British Indian Army.

The settlement didn’t last due to the unsuitability of the site's soil and weather, but the town survived and is today one of the fastest growing areas of Western Australia. Australind, a very early example of trading engagement between our nations!

Today bilateral trade between Australia and India has reached almost $21 billion and India is now our ninth largest trading partner and with boundless potential for growth.

As India looks to increase its energy supply and security, through a combination of traditional and nuclear and renewable sources, to support its growth, Australia is well placed as a reliable supplier of resources and technology.

Our people-to-people links are also stronger than ever. Australian residents of Indian origin are the fourth largest group of Australians born overseas, representing close to half a million people, or almost 2% of our total population (this from the latest Census in 2016).

Indian Australians make a strong contribution to our country, across all fields — business, science and medicine, education, arts and culture and sports.

Madam Bishop said India is a natural leader in the Indian Ocean region and globally and we support the role it has played in helping shape the strategic and economic environment.

She noted that the  changes taking place are also leading to rising strategic competition in the maritime region stretching from the Middle East to the United States.

Military outlays in our region expanded by over 5.5 per cent in 2015-16, easily outpacing the one per cent overall global increase in military spending.


She said: “By 2020, combined military budgets in our region are forecast to exceed US$600 billion. Now this is significant, given US expenditure is currently at $611 billion and Europe is at US$334 billion (2016 figures).”

Madam Bishop said “while we do not see the types of maritime and territorial disputes in the Indian Ocean that concern us in the South and East China seas, the Indian Ocean’s shipping lanes, passages and chokepoints are a key environment of strategic competition. Half of the world’s container shipping passes through the Indian Ocean. Over 80 per cent of China’s oil imports, up to 90 per cent of Japan’s oil imports and about 80 per cent of India’s crude oil requirements are shipped through the Indian Ocean”.

Australia and India share converging interests and similar outlooks on the strategic changes taking place in the region and globally, she said.

Outlining the type of Indo-Pacific region that Australia believe will best support its ongoing development and prosperity, Madam Bishop said: “Our first objective for the Indo-Pacific is for Australia to be an active participant, in partnership with other nations, in ensuring that a predictable international rules-based order is respected and upheld, as the foundation for peaceful cooperation in the region.”

She said the international rules-based order has allowed Indo-Pacific states — large and small — to pursue their national interests while giving us the tools to work together and to resolve disputes peacefully when they arise. It is an approach that recognises competition between states, and in which states agree to rules for regulating these disputes, and their behaviour toward each other.

Increasingly, however, the rules based order is coming under pressure. Strategic competition is leading to unilateral actions and a zero-sum conception of power relations. Rising nationalism is leading to a narrower definition of national interests, and a more transactional approach to negotiations. These factors reduce the prospect of multilateral cooperation in the collective interest, she said.

Madam Bishop also stressed the need for collectively building and strengthening international institutions that promote cooperation and manage integrated and competing interests in fair and transparent ways. The maritime domain is particularly important. Trading nations depend on free and secure maritime trade, and we uphold the rights of nations to freedom of the seas and skies.

She said it is important that all states respect international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), using it to guide their behaviour and resolve disputes. “I applaud India for successfully and peacefully resolving a long-running maritime boundary dispute with Bangladesh in 2014, under UNCLOS.”

Australia also sees an opportunity for Indo-Pacific democracies to work more closely together in support of regional stability and prosperity. India, Japan, Indonesia and Australia, for example, are all vibrant democracies and diverse and pluralist societies, and we share strikingly similar ambitions and perspectives on the nature and character of the regional order we want to build.

She said, “we must all continue to engage closely with China, one of the most important bilateral partners for all countries in the region. All our economies benefit from China’s growth, investment and economic partnerships. It is in no-one’s interest for the Chinese economy to falter.”

“Our objective must be to encourage China to exercise its economic and strategic weight in a way that respects the sovereign equality of states, that upholds and strengthens the rules-based order and that benefits all countries and peoples,” she said.

Need to work together to stop Chinese dream on World Order

Earlier, ORF Director Sunjoy Joshi delivered the opening address. Welcoming the minister, he said, “it is indeed fitting that you graced this platform for our inaugural oration. That was in April 2015.. a time when the world and the Indo Pacific was looking quite different from what we see today. Those were the days when the pivot to Asia was still part of strategic parlance.. as was the Trans Pacific Partnership. And at that time you had said something which today makes me think that perhaps your prescience had already recognised the rumblings of distant thunder.. you had said Let me quote “the great challenge of the Indo-Pacific era isn’t the rise of any one power.. it is the way in which, for the first time in centuries, we will manage a region which is home to many powers.”


He pointed out that even at the time of the world’s bi-polar moment, even at the height of the Cold War, the Indo Pacific as a region remained characterised by the lack of any overarching collective security system like NATO. What it continued to have in place instead was a network of coalitions of interests that have since been constantly evolving and adapting to the changing realities. “Today, these very coalitions, in a different world have come to symbolise and be symptomatic of a far more complex world that has moved beyond the simple binaries of yesterday,” he said.

The ORF Director said “as things stand, Australia, Japan, US and India are compelled to have strong and growing relations with countries such as Korea, Vietnam, and the ASEAN countries. They are also compelled to continue having a complex relationship with China.. for very much similar reasons”.

“The rise of China does present a conundrum.. here is an economic relationship that has powered the last few decades, a relationship that has woven itself across the economic pathways of the world, but which also has become a strategic challenge that will have to be nudged and shaped to make it beneficial. And that is easier said than done!!!”

He pointed out that through infrastructure projects across Asia, its ports and sea lanes, such as Djibouti and Gwadar in the Indian Ocean, rail links across the land mass of Eurasia, in bits and pieces, slowly but surely, a giant jig saw puzzle is being assembled. Many see it as one that will shape the economic and “political landscape” for Eurasia under the auspices of the Belt and Road Initiative. Some countries are playing along hoping to further their economic interests and development goals, while others are waiting and watching from the sidelines. “But there remain many for whom it is inevitable that the new Chinese narrative will not find universal resonance,” he said.

“Will our democracies, not alone but with each other, through treaties and agreements, cajoling and hand holding and building networked security arrangements, continue to hold ground, to enforce norms in the Indo Pacific and the landmass that is Eurasia. To not do that would be to allow Beijing to play that role and foist its own version of a new world order in the region,” Mr. Joshi said.

Mr. Joshi said ORF believes in creating platforms for leaders in the region so that they can engage across countries, articulate their vision, to communicate with citizens, communities and policy planners here in India and in the region. “As a key stakeholder of this Asian project and an important partner to India, your speech on Australia’s vision for itself and its expectations from its partners is therefore keenly awaited by the audience here and those viewing this oration as it is live streamed to audiences globally,” he said.

The Second Indo-Pacific Oration was moderated by ORF Vice President Samir Saran.

Speech of Australian FM

Speech of ORF Director

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