New Delhi, Aug. 24: Foreign minister Yashwant Sinha will go on a five-day trip to Australia next week, a move seen in diplomatic circles here as the first serious attempt by India to improve long-neglected relations with Canberra.
Cooperation on counter-terrorism — which can be expanded to other security-related issues of mutual concern — and close trade and economic ties are likely to be the twin pillars of future bilateral relations.
Sources said the foreign minister, during his visit, would sign a memorandum of understanding on counter-terrorism and another agreement to strengthen trade and investment.
Sinha’s trip to Australia is part of his nine-day-long three-nation tour beginning tomorrow night. He starts with a visit to Singapore before leaving for Australia on Tuesday.
From there, he will go to Indonesia on Saturday before returning to India on September 2.
Sources said Sinha’s main objective during his tour will be to “hard sell” India as an attractive investment destination and a reliable trading partner.
India’s relations with both Singapore and Indonesia are cordial. Sinha’s visit there would, therefore, help to deepen the excellent relations that Delhi has with Singapore and Jakarta. But the most significant part of his three-nation tour will be the one to Australia, the first serious effort by India to strengthen ties with Canberra in recent times.
Of late, India’s relations with Australia have been indifferent most of the time. Apart from cricketing ties, neither country has tried to find and develop upon other areas of common interest.
Relations between the two had nosedived in 1998, when Australia withdrew its high commissioner in protest against the Pokhran II nuclear tests. Delhi, which recovered from the international pressure after Washington began engaging with it in a big way, did not forget Canberra’s response in a hurry and made it difficult for Australian diplomats to access South Block.
Less than a year after the explosions, Canberra had also embarked on a correctional course by sending leaders to Delhi to improve relations. Early last year, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was scheduled to go to Australia for a bilateral visit as well as to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meet.
But internal developments, particularly the riots in Gujarat, forced him to call it off.
Although attempts were being made over the past several months to reschedule it, Vajpayee was unable to fit in a visit to Australia in his busy schedule. It was left to the foreign minister to fill in for the Prime Minister and his visit is being seen in this context.
The Australian leadership also realises the importance of Sinha’s visit. To show that it is as keen as India to improve relations, the leadership has decided to roll out the red carpet for the foreign minister, scheduling meetings for him with top leaders like Prime Minister John Howard and foreign minister Alexander Downer.
In the five days that he will be in Australia, Sinha will criss-cross the country, touching almost all the important cities, including Sydney, Adelaide, Canberra, Melbourne and Brisbane. The foreign minister will also address the Indian community in Australia and interact with leading business and industrial houses in that country.
Next weekend, he will be in Bali from where he will go to Jakarta and later to Yogyakarta, where he is scheduled to watch a performance of the Indonesian Ramayana.
Apart from talking about economic ties, Sinha will highlight the need to strengthen cooperation on counter-terrorism, especially in view of the increased activities of Islamic fundamentalist groups in Indonesia.