By: Pramod Thomas
AUSTRALIA vowed to take ties with India to the “next level” on Tuesday (23) as it hosted Narendra Modi for a lavish visit heavy on trade and light on criticism.
Lured by the world’s most populous market and a counterweight to China’s growing military, diplomatic and economic clout, Australia’s government is layering on the charm.
Thousands of overseas Indians cheered Modi at a rally at the 21,000 capacity Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney Olympic Park, one of the city’s biggest sporting arenas on Tuesday, a rare mass showing for a foreign leader in Australia.
Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese also attended the event with Modi.
“You have brought the spirit of the world’s biggest democracy to Australia,” he said.
A chartered Qantas flight rebranded as “Modi Airways” brought in fans from Melbourne, while “Modi Express” were being chartered from Queensland, local ABC News reported.
At a bilateral meeting on Wednesday (24) the two leaders were scheduled to discuss trade and investment, renewable energy, and defence and security cooperation.
“Australia and India share a commitment to a stable, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific,” Albanese said in a statement.
India is Australia’s sixth largest trading partner, while around 750,000 people in Australia claim Indian ancestry.
Australia and India have a great “strategic alignment”, deputy prime minister Richard Marles said, hailing the visit.
“It really does afford the opportunity to take the relationship to the next level,” he told the national broadcaster ABC, echoing Modi’s own words.
Modi on Monday (22) started his first visit to Australia since 2014, when he became the prime minister.
In the past decade, India’s economic performance has been mixed, with missteps curbing growth, but hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty.
It is now the second-fastest growing economy in the G20 and a multi-trillion-dollar market.
In Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena, Modi, who arrived to cheers from the crowd after a programme of song and dance from across India, paid tribute to the many connections between the two countries, from cricket and tennis to films and Indian street food in Sydney.
“Relations between both countries are based on mutual trust and respect,” he said, speaking in Hindi.
Marles, meanwhile, said, India is a “growing, massive economy, there are great opportunities for us.”
“Ultimately, we are both democracies and that very much underpins the way in which we see the world,” he added, pointing to the two nations’ growing trade and tightening defence relationships.
Both countries want an expansion in two-way trade, valued at Aus$46.5 billion (US$31 billion) last year and set to rise after a free-trade deal came into effect in December last year.