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India helps balance China's weight

By Thom Woodroofe - posted Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The Defence Minister is one of the few people who understands that India's rise will be just as important to Australia as that of China.

You could easily have missed it, but Stephen Smith's visit to the US recently was one of the most important by a minister in decades.

For the first time, a member of the Government equated the importance of India's rise to Australia with that of China. And it has been a long time coming.


Australia's relationship with India has suffered through a chequered and highly volatile period in recent years.

This has included the wrongful deportation of Indian doctor Mohamed Haneef in 2007; an outburst of racial tension on the cricket field in 2008; the so-called "curry bashings" of Indian students in 2009; and the blind introduction of visa requirements last year which threatened to lead to a 70 per cent drop in Indian student entries.

But most of all, a ban on uranium exports has become a bad symbol of our foreign policy relationship.

It might seem trivial but Mr Smith's speech to the highly esteemed Brookings Institution in Washington focused almost twice as much on India as it did on China.

"Australia, like India, is an Indian Ocean country," Mr Smith said.

But the reality is that for far too long Australia has been focused almost solely on the Asia Pacific to the neglect of the emerging centre of geopolitics in the Indian Ocean.


Fuelled by Hugh White-centric doctrines of a bipolar US-China ballgame, India has been completely overlooked in the process.

The Indian Ocean region is home to 48 countries, including five members of the powerful G20 forum, a population of 2.6 billion people, or 40 per cent of the world's population, and contributes 10 per cent of global GDP with more than 40 per cent of all trade passing through it.

These are figures China is all too aware of with their "String of Pearls" strategy of building military bases and shipping dockyards all the way from Hong Kong to the port of Sudan.

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This article was first published in The West Australian on August 9, 2011

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About the Author

Thom Woodroofe, 21, is a foreign affairs analyst combining journalism, research, teaching and community work to advance an understanding of Australia's place in the world.

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