Indo-Aus ties touch new high

Melbourne: Australia took a leap forward in pushing its relationship with India to a new high by reversing a long-standing ban on the export of uranium to it despite domestic opposition, paving the way for removal of a major irritant in bilateral ties. The bold decision by Prime Minister Julia Gillard came despite strong protests within her Labor party, but she pushed the move, saying it move would help Australia take advantage of the "Asian century".

"We are at the right time in the history of the world to seize a new era of opportunity in this, the Asian century," Gillard had said, justifying her decision to sell uranium to India despite it being a non-signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. "We need to make sure that across our regions we have the strongest possible relationships we can, including with the world`s largest democracy, India."

"It`s good for trade, it`s good for jobs, it`s good for the nation." She had said it was not rational that Australia sells uranium to China but not to India. India welcomed the decision, saying bilateral cooperation in energy sector is one of the important aspects of India`s multi-faceted ties with Australia.

With the "uranium irritant" out of the way, a visit to India by Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith this month has resulted in initial moves to strengthen military cooperation and boost trade.

However, his reported statement suggesting that India would be roped in to a trilateral security pact including the US, drew strong reaction from New Delhi. Later, Australia clarified that it had made no proposal for a trilateral security arrangement.

In September, Gillard announced a white paper to be released in mid 2012 that would review threats and opportunities posed by the rapid rise of China and India.

In June, Indian diaspora here strongly protested to the Australian government for posting an incorrect Indian map on its official website that had omitted the border states of Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh.

The map was later removed with Australian government stating that "The map was an error and was being removed from the website."

While it appears inevitable that Australia and India`s engagement will deepen in next few years time, experts feel there was a lot to be done at people to people relationships level.

After a series of attacks on Indian students last year that strained bilateral ties, the issue remained off the headlines with only one alleged attack reported at the end of the year in Melbourne.

Indian student Nitin Garg, whose murder in 2010 outraged public opinion in India and put the bilateral relations under stress, got justice after an Australian court sentenced a Melbourne teenager to 13 years in jail for the crime.

In 2011, Australia witnessed a slump in enrollment of Indian students in its universities and higher educational institutions due to dollar value, tighter visa rules and Indian students attack issue.

Latest data revealed that Indian student enrollments in Australia dipped by over 27 per cent following turmoil in its international education sector. The total enrollments from India stood at 69,702 during January-October 2011 as compared to 95,891 during the same period last year.

The two way trade grew during the year and the two sides formally launched negotiations to conclude comprehensive economic cooperation agreement. Two-way goods and services trade stood at 2 billion Australian dollar in last financial year 2010-11, placing India as Australia`s fourth largest export market.

Education exports to India made up the bulk of the services trade, with India topping the list among the largest source of international students studying in Australia.