Melbourne: Australia's foreign policy has been viewed as 'unduly mercantilist' by Indian establishment, a report has argued, citing how a priority mismatch led to the then visiting Vice President K R Narayanan being refused a meeting with former Australian premier Paul Keating in 1994.
The report by the Australia India Institute said that the foreign ministries of both Australia and India have been found divided by the same calling: diplomacy.
While Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) of Australia combines commerce and traditional diplomacy and sees trade promotion as essential to its character, MEA has historically not practiced economic diplomacy and has begun seeing itself as an adjunct to Indian businesses and trade only relatively recently, it noted.
In a 72-run pages report 'Beyond the Lost Decade' which was released in Sydney yesterday, it was stated 'Old timers in MEA, still speak of the visit of K R Narayanan'.
"He had affection for the country but was, surprisingly to the Indians, refused a meeting with Prime Minister Paul Keating, apparently on the advice of Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade".
"DFAT clearly misjudged the importance of India, though there was an interest between the political leaderships which was clearly seen after the two dignitaries met as the meeting lasted for an hour or so," Ashok Malik, a well known columnist and a member of the taskforce which was formed for the report, commented.
"The Indian diplomats had to use the good offices of a person of Indian-origin, residing in Australia and known socially to Keating, to get the Australian Prime Minister to agree to a 15 minute appointment with Narayanan," Malik said.
Though the meeting between the two dignitaries lasted for an hour, the report said 'it is an indication of how DFAT officials had misjudged its potential and the political leadership's interest in India'.
The study said there exists a mismatch in terms of not just diplomatic priorities but also political and public diplomacy styles.
"The Australian way is a more informal and language can be used loosely," it said, adding that "the subtlety of diplomatic intercourse that the MEA prides itself on is more sensitively assimilated by the Americans or the British than the Australians".
The report also urged the Indian government to propose regular prime ministerial visits between the two sides and establish a young political leaders programme.
In laying out over 30 recommendations as a roadmap to improve relations, it has called for strong political leadership to balance any outdated thinking of the two sides.
"Negotiations on bilateral free trade, defence ties and
nuclear safeguards agreements should be prioritised and expedited as a litmus test of the ability of officials and negotiators on both sides to transcend old enmities and serve the interest of nations," the report stated.
Referring to the case of Dr Mohammad Haneef who was wrongly accused in Brisbane on charges of UK terror bombings in 2007, the study said "to Indian diplomats, this amounted to not just Australian prickliness but also an unwillingness to appreciate that MEA was answerable to domestic public opinion about the unfair treatment of a citizen overseas similar to DFAT in case of Australian national".
In a section called 'South Block looks Down Under', the report also has pointed out at the MEA's 'capacity constraints and a busy desk for the average Indian diplomat'.
"In 2011-12, it took the Australian coast guard seven months of urging the MEA to get permission to interact with Indian coast guard.
"Such behaviour is not necessarily symbolic of a Fortress India or Hostile attitude on the part of MEA - though it may sometimes be interpreted thus - but more a result of severe under capacity and under resourcing in the Indian system," it said.
The study also criticised the Australian government for acting slow on uranium sale to India.
"The uranium decision was delayed by Canberra till late 2011 and was seen in India as having happened because Washington pushed hard for it. By that time, India had sewn up uranium supplies from other countries and while Australian yellowcake will certainly be needed in coming decades, the moment for a decisive bargain has been lost," it commented.
The perception of Australia as a nation, the report said, is that of one only interested in quick buck.
Seeking more concessions for Indian students on visa front and extending post study work entitlement to them at all levels, the report criticised the willingness of Australian authorities to allow the opening of more and more mediocre colleges so long as they brought revenues from Indian students, even if they did long term damage to the reputation of Australian higher education as an enterprise.
The building of a national brand in a foreign country is more than just the building of individual company brands, and Australia may have learnt this the hard way, the report said.
The report is result of a AII perception taskforce which was formed in 2011 in a bid to provide answers to several pending issues between the two sides and make recommendations on how to respond to those challenges.
First Published: Wednesday, July 18, 2012, 11:16