'No Indian PM has visited Australia in 26 years’


Dr Pradeep Taneja, who recently took over the position of Fellow of the Australia India Institute, talks to Salvi Manish about how the governments of the two countries can improve bilateral relations.

BLURB : There are skills shortages in some employment categories, which have to be met by allowing people with the right qualifications and skills from overseas to work in Australia.

Dr Pradeep Taneja, lecturer in Asian politics in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne and former director of International Programs in the Graduate School of Management at La Trobe University, took over the position of Fellow of the Australia India Institute recently.

Educated in India, China and Australia, Dr Taneja has been an astute observer of political and economic developments in both China and India for the past 25 years. It was in January 2006 that Dr Taneja joined the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne, where he specialised in Chinese politics, political economy and international relations in the Asia-Pacific region. His current research topics are based on the relationship between politics and business in China, the political implications of China’s energy security policy and the rise of China as a regional and global power.

While he lived and worked in China for more than six years during the 1980s and 90s, he continues to maintain an active interest in Indian politics. In an exclusive interview to Indus Age, Dr Taneja discloses his views on India-China and India–Australia relations.

1. Why did you take up the role of Fellow of the Australia India Institute?

The Fellows positions were created only recently after the appointment of Professor Amitabh Mattoo as director. I believe the aim is to give the AII a stronger research focus. At the launch of the Institute in New Delhi, the then Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Julia Gillard, had said that AII would serve as the epicenter of knowledge about India in Australia. This mandate requires the AII to become a creator and disseminator of knowledge about India in all its dimensions.

2. As the Convener of a taskforce on Sino-Indian relations, can you comment on Australia’s international relations with Asian countries?

Both India and China are the rising powers of Asia. China is already the world’s second largest economy after the United States and it is projected to overtake the US. India has also emerged as a fast growing major economy and it is expected to become the third largest economy in the world before 2050. China and India are already Australia’s first and fifth largest trading partners respectively. The focus of the taskforce that I convene is not so much on Sino-Indian relations as on the rise of China and the Australian and Indian perspectives on it. How China engages with the rest of the world as a great power will have a significant bearing on the strategic environment of the Indo-Pacific region. It is in both Australia’s and India’s interest to understand each others’ perspectives on the rise of China.

3. According to a latest report, China’s abundant human resources are being utilised by Australia to deal with ‘infrastructure bottleneck and shortage of skilled labour.’ Your views.

There is no doubt that Australia needs to improve its infrastructure to ensure it is able to meet the growing demand for its energy and mineral resources in Asia. There are skills shortages in some employment categories, which have to be met by allowing people with the right qualifications and skills from overseas to work in Australia. I believe there are opportunities for people from many different countries to come and work in Australia, not just China. In fact, Indian workers may have a slight advantage over Chinese workers because of their generally superior English language skills.

4. The recent attack on Indian students in Australia has hampered the bilateral relationship. How do you think the two governments can bridge this gap?

The violent attacks on Indian students in Australia had a serious impact on the Indian public’s perception of Australia. The initial Australian government attempts to deny that there might have been a racist dimension to some of these attacks played into the hands of the Indian media hungry for headlines. The urgent steps taken by the Federal and Victorian governments were successful in ensuring that there was no long-term damage to government to government relations. But at the general public level, the damage to Australia’s image in India was considerable.

Both governments have since stressed the importance they attach to their bilateral relations. We have also seen a number of senior ministerial visits exchanged between the two countries over the past couple of years. But the challenge for the two governments is to maintain this momentum. It is also important that Australia succeeds in persuading the Indian prime minister to pay a bilateral visit to Australia. Your readers might be surprised to learn that no Indian prime minister has visited Australia for the past 26 years.

5. Do you think Australia will be a magnet for migrants from across Asia and play a pivotal role in the geo-politics of the region in the coming decades?

As countries like China and India become more prosperous and their people enjoy a higher standard of living, there will be less of an incentive for them to emigrate. As for Australia’s role in the regional geo-politics, I think Australia as a middle power already pulls well above its weight. Australia’s alliance with the United States and its vast reserves of mineral and energy resources combined with its effective diplomacy make Australia a good interlocutor for most countries in the region.

6. Chinese diplomat Ouyang Cheng mentioned recently that ”Australia’s dual-speed and patchwork economy would not only hurt its own economic development, but also influence China and Australia’s long-term economic co-operation”. Your views on this.

I would not give too much weight to the views of a junior Chinese diplomat. Every country has its own economic strengths and weaknesses and I don’t think it is appropriate for a foreign government official to be expressing these views in public. If China has concerns about Australia’s foreign trade and investment policies, Australia also has some concerns about China’s investment policies that make it difficult for Australian and other foreign companies to enter certain sectors of China’s economy. This was also pointed out by Kevin Rudd in a speech in Perth recently.

7. Is Australia the new “Middle East”? Are Australians politicians and businesses doing enough to leverage this edge?

If you are referring to Australia’s status as a major supplier of essential natural resources then I think Australian government is doing quite well in supporting Australian companies. I do think, however, that Australia should use the boom years to put away as much money as possible for future use.

8. It has been widely spoken that the Indian bureaucrats in Australia are not interested in solving any issues of Indians living here. Can you comment on this.

I think the previous Indian Consul General in Melbourne, Ms Anita Nayar, did a great job under very difficult circumstances, though I can’t speak on it for Sydney or other cities.

9. Has the fall in student flow from India and China affected Australia’s economy?

The drop in Indian and Chinese student numbers has certainly affected many educational institutions in Australia, especially those in the vocational sector. Naturally, it has also had some impact on the labour market, especially in the services sector.