Delegates attending the annual Australian Labour Party Conference last week in Sydney endorsed Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s commitment to sell uranium to India. This signaled the strengthening of strategic partnership between India and Australian overseen by the US.
With India’s emergence as a leader in the Asia-Pacific region and its pre-eminence established in the International high-tables, Canberra must have felt comfortable in its decision. Australia accounts for nearly 50% of the world’s uranium deposits.
The Labour Party’s announcement followed a forceful appeal by Ms Gillard during pre-conference meetings.
US lobby works
It is understood that US President Barack Obama had asked Ms Gillard during his recent visit to Australia to remove the ban on the sale of uranium to India.
Indo-Australian relations were in low-ebb because of serious misunderstandings over the long-proposed uranium export and violence against the Indian students.
Politically, India had been unable to find any reason for the reluctance of Australia’s Labour Party reluctance in supplying Uranium.
Ms Gillard had said in October that Australia would not be able to export uranium to India since it was not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
India’s argument was that the Rarotonga Treaty of 1985 envisaged a nuclear free zone in the South Pacific, exempting US naval vessels carrying nuclear weapons.
The Treaty also excludes the US islands in the South Pacific from its purview.
India had asked Australia to withdraw from the ‘nuclear umbrella’ provided by the Australia New Zealand and US (ANZUS) Treaty and block any US nuclear submarines in its backwaters before discussing global nuclear non-proliferation.
India had said that NPT was discriminatory along the lines of Nuclear Weapons States and Non-Nuclear Weapons States.
India’s commitment to Nuclear Non-Proliferation has been exemplary, as understood and appreciated by the international community and expressed during the course of the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2008.
India has consistently argued with Australia that though China, as a member of the NPT had not adhered to its provisions but receives uranium from Australia
Besides that India and Australia can also work towards findings strong strategic relations and defense ties along the lines of Indo-New Zealand relations, which had turned cold after India’s nuclear test in May 1998
But that has undergone a paradigm shift with Wellington now envisaging a Defense Advisor to India.
This aspect was formulated during Prime Minister John Key’s visit to India in June this year. It was agreed that India, Australia, Indonesia and the US should have an effective treaty in place to control the rise of China.
Australia should also shift from the security strategy envisaged by Australia Defence White Paper released in 2009.
The White Paper took the position of self-reliance in defence, which is an extension of its policy since the issue of ‘Guam Doctrine’ by the US in the 1970s.
The White Paper was also skeptic of the existing ANZUS Treaty.
The Kevin Rudd Government (2009) distanced itself from the US-China Cold War, hoping for a G2 situation in which Australia could be beneficial.
However, with China’s increased assertiveness in 2010 and the US deciding to focus more on the East Asia region after winding down from Afghanistan and Iraq, it was high time that Australia took a position on its security.
Australia can learn a lesson from New Zealand, which has understood the changing geo-political scenario with the rise of China.
There is scope for enhanced relations between Australia and India, at Government, private sector and people-to-people levels.
Balaji Chandramohan is our Correspondent based in Delhi, India.