Asia Society Policy Salon Tokyo | Ambassadors' Circle with Ambassador of Australia & India
Asia Society Japan Center
Thursday, 30 July 2020
Asia Society Ambassadors’ Circle
His Excellency Mr. Richard Court AC, Australian Ambassador to Japan
Mr. Raj Kumar Srivastava, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of India
His Excellency Mr. Richard Court AC and Mr. Raj Srivastava engaged in a fireside chat with Mr. Jesper Koll on COVID-19 and its impact on the economy, as well as foreign policy and Indo-Pacific relations. Following their conversation, the floor was invited to ask questions. Some of the topics discussed were: the Indo-Pacific initiative, changing supply chains, the ideal architecture of the region in the next five years, what contributions Japan can make, and the impact of COVID-19 on climate change and energy transition to net zero.
COVID-19 and its impact on the economy
Australia handled the first wave well by implementing a strict containment policy, blocking off external borders. As a result, the number of deaths had successfully been limited to 100 deaths, until in the last month a case of local transmission in the state of Victoria increased the national death toll to 160+. One of the challenges in containing infections is that policies are varied among different states. As the winter football season approaches all teams have been taken out of Victoria and placed in quarantine in other states where the infection rates are very low. Australia hopes to feed in this innovative approach to the Olympic Committee in Tokyo.
Australian resources (iron ore, coal, gas) and agricultural exports have performed well amid COVID-19, while service industries - hospitality, tourism and education sectors - have been struggling. The government is concerned about unemployment. The economy is entering a recession after 29 consecutive years of growth.
India is still struggling with the first wave of COVID-19 infections. With the universal health coverage standing at 30% below the world average, it was most important that India went into complete lockdown. While India is faced with many challenges arising from the COVID-19 crisis, it believes it will come out of the crisis better and finds it an opportunity for the country to prove to itself that it can overcome these critical times. India believes this is momentum for upscaling medical equipment production and is confident that it will successfully develop a vaccine. COVID-19 is a catalyst for positive change and will contribute to increased national unity, self-reliance and self-confidence.
Foreign policy and Indo-Pacific relations
Australia’s priority is to assist its neighbors, especially in the South Pacific region, and has worked closely with New Zealand and other smaller economies to ensure access to all health requirements. Australia would like to see more cooperation among likeminded countries and believes that trade is a strong and effective incentive for mutual respect.
It is important for Australia to maintain good complementary relations with its three major trading partners: Japan, Korea and China. China has grown both economically and militarily, and has become the second largest economy in the world. Australia is China’s top supplier of iron, coal, gas and wool exports. Australia needs to work constructively and flexibly with China, which has become more powerful and confident. There are differences to overcome, largely due to different forms of governance. For instance, China’s population size and structure sees a priority on the need for China to feed its people and bring more people out of poverty. Australia seeks to be on that journey with China and wants to ensure that good working relations are maintained.
Australia’s relations with India have moved positively forward during these past years. The Indian population is a very large population group in Australia and have a strong influence domestically. As with Japan, China and Korea, Australia enjoys a complementary relationship with India.
India seeks to become the center of the global shift in the flow of goods and people so that the Indian economy can achieve its potential. The Indo-Pacific Initiative is a very important maritime vision for the region that India sits in and offers many opportunities for maritime cooperation. There are seven pillars to the Indo-Pacific Initiative: maritime security, maritime ecology, maritime transport, disaster risk reduction, maritime resources, science and technology and academic cooperation, basically looking at people, processes, and products. The initiative is gaining ground, replacing the Asia-Pacific Initiative, but building on existing architecture. It is intended to be an inclusive vision open to the entire region, including ASEAN centrality, and should not be a code for excluding China.
India faces the challenges of tensions on its continental borders but these are not new issues. It is important to allow differences but not let them convert into crisis. Countries need to work on building trust.
There is a big wave of technology-related investment in India from Japan, US, UAE, and Canada, despite COVID-19. India seeks international cooperation in five major areas: healthcare, agriculture & food processing, digital & innovation, defense, and energy & environment.
Following the initial conversation, the floor was invited to ask questions. Some of the topics discussed covered relations with China in the Indo-Pacific Initiative, the diversification of supply chains due to the spread of COVID-19, the ideal architecture of the region in the next five years, what contributions Japan can make, and the impact of COVID-19 on climate change and energy transition to net zero.