MUMBAI, December 9, 2011 — "As we go through the first half of this century, we will have two countries of over a billion people that will be great powers — China and India," Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith observed during a discussion here at Asia Society India Centre. As many Asian nations such as India and China step onto the global stage, Australia finds itself at the center of shifting power relations. Smith saw mutual cooperation rather than any attempt at containment as the way forward.
"As any world power rises, the world has to come to grips with that," Smith said. "I often see suggestions that people are trying to contain China; we're not trying to contain China."
The key, he explained, is to approach the rising nation not to constrain it but to encourage transparency with its international allies.
“Any nation, as its economy grows, as its place in the world grows, is entitled to now match its economic growth by adding to its military capability," he said. "All we ask is that they are transparent about strategic intention."
Although China has yet to yield to such requests for "strategic transparency," Smith remained optimistic that China will emerge into a harmonious environment and as a responsible stakeholder respecting international laws and norms.
"We see the [regional] architecture as a force for good," he explained.
According to Smith, the regional architecture of international conferences that exists today already encourages peaceful cooperation. For instance, at the expanded East Asia Summit meeting in 2011, 16 out of the 18 countries called for issues in the South and East China Seas to be resolved amicably and in accordance with international law and norms.
Explaining why Australia changed its policy to allow uranium sales to India, Smith explained that recent policy changes showed India an ally in controlling nuclear arms. India accepted oversight of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which shows its willingness to cooperate with international regulations. But most importantly, Smith emphasized that Australia’s change in policy was a show of respect for the rising world power.
"India […] as a rising world power, is entitled to receive the respect that goes with that," he said.
In the end, Smith's discussion centered around the premise that as Asian giants rise to power, it is best to go with the tide rather than push against it.
This programme was part of Asia Society India Centre's Future of Asia series. Presented in partnership with the Mohile Parikh Centre, with support from the Consulate General of Australia in Mumbai.