Australian PM boosts ties with security partner India ahead of US visit

By Pratap Chakravarty - RFI
MAR 11, 2023 LISTEN

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visited India to cement ties before dashing off to the US for talks that could include a scuppered submarine deal which infuriated France.

On Thursday, 100,000 Indian fans hosted Albanese and his local counterpart Narendra Modi at a cricket match before they met behind closed doors to discuss trade, education, culture and China's expanding military clout.

On Monday next week, Albanese will meet US President Joe Biden Biden as well as British Premier Rishi Sunak who form the informal security pact AUKUS set up last September.

Media said Australia's plan on the controversial sub project was likely to be unveiled in the United States.

“I'll be meeting with President Biden... We'll have further announcements about details soon about the arrangements that will be taking place,” he told reporters at Perth Airport before boarding his plane to India.

India ties

But as Albanese wrapped up his four-day India tour with calls for military, trade and solar ties there was not a word from him on the future of Australia's ageing diesel subs.

“Modi and I discussed an increasingly uncertain global security environment and committed to ... work towards an open, stable and prosperous India-Pacific,” Albanese told reporters after official talks on Friday in Delhi.

“I welcome increased defence info' sharing between Australia and India including in the maritime domain,” he added but was tight-lipped over plans to crack the failed deal that sank Franco-Australian ties to great depths.

Franco-Aussie tackle

In September 2021, Albanese 's predecessor Scott Morrison flushed down the 62-billion-Euro French contract for a dozen diesel-fired submarines and opted for an alternative deal with Britain and the US.

The French leader even accused Morrison of lying and refused to take his phone calls for weeks after Australia torpedoed the contract with French shipbuilder Naval Group.

Macron argued Australia not having an atomic energy industry would struggle to run its nuclear-powered submarines and that instead it should have accepted diesel-powered subs the French offered.

Experts such as strategic affairs pundit Alexey Muraviev called for peace as Albanese's government last summer had agreed to fork out 555 million euros as compensation to bury the hatchet with the French shipbuilders.

“Being a massive country with its relatively small population and relatively small defence forces we obviously will have to think strategically in terms of investing in surgical capabilities that would give us the edge,” Muraviev said.

 “We cannot win by numbers but we can win by technology,“ argued Muraviev, a national security studies expert at Perth's Curtin University, referring to Australia's population, numbering 26 million compared to China's 1.4 billion.

Invisible Dragon

Last week, foreign ministers of Australia, India, Japan and the US met in Delhi to denounce China for the spike in tensions in the South and East China seas but they did not name the Communist state.

The grouping is scheduled to send their navies into annual Malabar war gaming drills in August off the coast off Sydney.

The four-nation grouping called Quad was set up in 2007 as an answer to Chinese belligerence in the Indo-Pacific region.

“China must b e allowed to grow but then unfortunately China's growth is seen by the United States as threatening America's hegemony,” said Andrew K.P.Leung, an International China Strategist.

“What China is doing at the South China Sea or developing its navy is to safeguard its own national interest,” Andrew argued.