Strategic analyses over the weekend tended to mull over the impact of evolving power equations from the “Asia-Pacific” to West Asia, from nervous countries watching a trade war that could hurt them financially and militarily, to the downing of an American drone by Iran. The weight of the principals, and consequently their actions, is such that no one is in a position to point a finger at them, even when they adversely affect others. The happy chance is that Australia and India share a value-system and the complementary rule of law which are connected with the issues in question.
It is also true that the ranking system of those principles, and sometimes the standards themselves, are at stake. But events could be seen to be developing beneficially if the two countries exploit their own fairly diverse sub-sets for the larger good. For instance, India abides by the existing rule of law, but has suffered colonialism, and like China, is sometimes uncomfortable with the hierarchy which puts it at a disadvantage.
In recent times, India has set store by cultural heritage. Its exceptionalism stems from a highly evolved philosophical and literary legacy of unity in diversity and religion as a way of life, sometimes prone to the supposition that all capabilities are innate. Even People’s China is known to be selectively restoring Confucianism. Yet what could have been the shared historico-cultural bequest of two founding strands of civilization can be overstated and veer between agreeability and antipathy. History, if viewed in the relevant light, creates a bilateral bond, which can also be a negotiating space. Additionally, China’s contentious pre-eminence in 5 G technology, if true, can mediate our daily lives in future, and will be a blessing or affliction depending on our preparedness.
The Chinese, unlike a lot of urban Indians who think and talk in both their mother tongues and English, are monolingual. The linguistic transition can be harrowing, not that cognition and application of technology in English are not already causing unstated tension among those who are essentially unilingual. Yet the same adversity can turn into serendipity. India lives in simultaneously different time spans which are reflected in its democracy of which its own variant of English language and culture is unique and instrumental in communicating with other cultures. In select quarters this can run quite deep, and the supplements of sense and sensibility they carry with them can be creative—even in a political sense. Australia has a natural affinity with the West and the USA, and to that extent, can share their confidence and impact their decision-making, particularly if and when push comes to shove. Pragmatism underlies the contradictions with which the contemporary world hedges its bets and is seemingly seldom absolute!
At a time when China is almost attaining ascendancy by soft power in its trade war (while some South-east Asians admittedly discern the iron fist in the velvet glove), the low-key Indo-Australian agency in the same domain can go a long way.
By Uttam Sen
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