New Delhi: A partnership between two democracies like India and Australia should be "far easier" to build than one between Australia and a one-party communist state like China, former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott said.
He made the remarks on Monday while speaking at an event organised here by the India Foundation. The theme of the event was 'Vision For Free & Open Indo-Pacific'.
"A partnership between two democracies such as India and Australia should be far easier to build than one between Australia and a one-party communist state like China," Abbott said.
"Perhaps this is why the relationship between Australia and India, until recently, has largely been taken for granted; while that with China has been carefully cultivated by all governments and assiduously fostered by all prime ministers since Bob Hawke," he added.
While still keeping up the China relationship, Abbott said, it was the relationship with India that his government was so determined to accelerate.
"It's a real pity that there was no prime ministerial visit to India in 2015 that could have sealed the free trade deal that Modi ji and I had pledged to complete within a year, but perhaps this is something that prime ministers (Narendra) Modi and (Scott) Morrison might return to in their discussions here in Delhi in February," he said.
It would be the most obvious way to demonstrate our countries' commitment to each other, he added.
"Of course, there's some apprehension that trade deals might put domestic industries or wage rates at risk and there's extra hesitation about a China-led regional FTA, but there's little doubt that Australian food exports and resource exports, and Australian educators and trainers and engineers based here, rather than in Melbourne or Sydney, could be very important as hundreds more millions of Indians transition from the third world to the middle class," Abbott said.
In his address, the Australian leader dwelled further upon the Indo-Australian ties.
"Even now, though Australian officialdom seems unnecessarily cautious about the potential of the Australia-India relationship, the otherwise excellent official report on Australia's economic strategy with India to 2035 goes out of its way to stress that India, quote, 'is not the next China'," he said.
"Why should Australian officials think that what one country of a billion people could achieve under the dictatorship of the proletariat is impossible in another that has the blessings of democracy, the rule of law and the English language?" he asked.
Speaking about the 'Quad', Abbott said, as prime minister, he was pleased to begin the rehabilitation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue by deepening security co-operation with Japan, renewing the nuclear understanding between Australia and India, and accelerating the security co-operation with India that had largely stalled.
"All my successors have built on this," he said.
The former Australian prime minister also asserted that since his first trip to India 38 years ago, he has been "certain that India was a force for good and that engagement with India would improve our region and our world".
"I'm keen to make fostering our relationship with India my personal mission in post-parliamentary life," he said.