Patience key to India-Australia ties: Varghese

The key to building strategic ties between Australia and India is patience and realistic expectations, top Australian diplomat Peter Varghese has said.

Melbourne: The key to building strategic ties between Australia and India is patience and realistic expectations, top Australian diplomat Peter Varghese has said, underlining that the booming economic relations will be the "load- bearing pillar" in bilateral partnership.

Speaking at Australia India Institute annual oration on Thursday here, Head of Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) Varghese said, "We have committed to a strategic partnership."

Varghese, the former Australian High Commissioner to India, said, "The economic relationship is booming. Our geo strategic interests are converging. We are finding more common ground in multilateral for a welcome if still nascent change from the days when differences over trade and on-proliferation soured a generation of Australian and Indian diplomats towards each other."

"This growing convergence applies to both our strategic and economic interests, the latter driven by a structural complementarity in trade and investment. Indeed it is the economic relationship which, in my view, will be the load bearing pillar of the relationship in the medium term," he said.

Varghese who took over as Indian High Commissioner when Indian student safety issue was at the peak in 2009 however, said, "The key to building the Australia-India relationship is patience and realistic expectations."

"India punishes impatience," he added.

"If we get the economic relationship right, the strategic partnership will follow, although there will be a long lag between when India arrives as an economic power and when it arrives as a strategic power," he said.

"In my view, the Australia-India story will be broadly similar to the Australia-Japan story: trade led, commodities dominated, values influenced and then broadening into a strategic partnership," he said.

India`s changing sense of its strategic interests will bring it closer to Australia. But there will be limits to how far and how fast India will want to go in this direction, Varghese said. Stating that Australians and Indians were caught in time wrap of outdated perception about each other, Varghese said India was in top bracket of international relations.

"India has seen the benefits of reform too - the leadership of Prime Minister (Manmohan) Singh, both in his current role, and in that crucial time when he was Finance Minister, has made a significant difference to where India is today in its development and the prosperity of its people," he said.

"For the broader Indian community, images of Australia tend to be sketchy, shaped by cricket, historical connections and sporadic coverage of Indian media," he said adding similarly, in Australia, there was very little understanding of contemporary India.

He said the rapidly growing Indian Diaspora in Australia which stood at over 400,000 was forging links which would add much needed depth and texture to the people-to-people relationship.

He said that Australia was looking to work with India at every front despite vast challenges.

"...For all its economic challenges and for all the frustrations that Indian economic reformers daily face, it is very unlikely that we will see a derailing of India`s growth path over the next two decades," he said, adding, "whatever the shape of the international order Australia craft this century, it needed India`s participation."

Referring to the problems of climate change, resource depletion, development, Varghese said, "It requires us to work together, as international partners”.

"Democracies are messy, but they produce resilient outcomes, and a regional and global order that did not include an active and engaged India - a quarter of the world`s population - would struggle to achieve meaningful results."

"India`s choices will help shape the global outlook. If India takes on a more active role, Indian leadership could be an invaluable international public good in the 21st Century," he said.

The degree to which India chooses to be a positive, constructive player on the international stage will affect the extent to which its strategic power comes to match its growing economic weight, he said.

He said that India was not generally seen as a strategic threat and despite its growing military capability as inevitably it will, India`s strategic behaviour was unlikely to cause much anxiety.

"This strategic partnership will of course be less than an alliance. But it will be much more than a line in a communiqué. At its core will be a broadly shared view of the drivers of stability in Asia, including an inclusive and outward-looking regionalism," he said.

"I am a long term optimist about the Australia-India relationship. But building this strategic partnership will not happen quickly, not because its underlying logic is weak, but because we are starting from a relatively low base and there are real capacity constraints. And also because there is currently an inevitable asymmetry of ambition in the relationship which will take time to narrow," he said.