Melbourne : Jude Perera is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs and he felt it was his responsibility to build relationships with ethnic communities in Victoria. By visiting India this bonds strengthens.
Victorian state Labor MP Jude Perera was touring India last year to build relationships with politicians and business when something about the country struck him as particularly impressive.
It was not India’s strong GDP growth record or booming, youthful population but the fact that throughout wars and upheaval around the world the country has managed to maintain its foreign policy of non-alignment, held since the Cold War.
And according to Mr Perera, who met with experts at Delhi-based think tank the Observer Research Foundation and Indian National Congress Party MP Mani Shanker Aiyar, among others, there are no signs India will change its foreign policy tune any time soon.
“When I went there I was so impressed with the non-aligned stand that India still holds,” said Mr Perera, who is Labor’s member for Cranbourne in Melbourne’s southeast and Parliamentary Secretary to the Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs.
“Mani Shanker said ‘Pakistan always interferes in other peoples wars and we do not – we don’t get involved in other peoples wars.”
Mr Perera said India’s non-aligned stance made it “unique” among the world’s major powers.
But this ‘uniqueness’ has been criticised by foreign policy experts, particularly from the West, who say with China rising in the East and sniffing at India’s borders and Pakistan still growling with threats of nuclear weapons and missiles to the northwest, it’s in India’s best interests to start making friends with their “enemies’ enemies,” and fast.
After India’s strategic community began peddling “Non-alignment 2.0” or “strategic autonomy” last year, the US think tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace countered that India’s strategic challenges were “grave and increasing” and Delhi should be focusing on building defence ties rather than going it alone.
“To be successful, India needs these ties with key friendly powers throughout the world – especially the United States – because neither its example as a successful democracy nor its efforts at internal balancing are likely to produce the security necessary to its well-being,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace senior associate Ashley J. Tellix wrote in August last year.
But Mr Perera said that when he visited Delhi and Indore, he was struck by the positive aspects of India’s non-aligned stance, including that it had managed to stay clear of the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and numerous others.
“They don’t send forces into other countries.
“They’re not been aligned with any of ‘this block or that block’, since the Cold War,” he said.
“When you have the Iraq war, Iran war, Afghan and elsewhere going on, and they have never got involved.
“India is a unique place, in this sense, out of the big powers.”
Mr Perera said he was also surprised to find India’s strategic thinkers did not seem too concerned about China’s recent moves to strengthen ties with Sri Lanka, pouring millions of development dollars into the country since the end of the civil war in 2009.
“When I went there I expected people to be worried about China’s presence in Sri Lanka but they’ re not, I didn’t see that,” he said.
“I visited the Observer Research Foundation and I asked them ‘Do you feel threatened by China?’ and they said ‘No they have their own right to be in Sri Lanka, as long as it’s not a military presence we don’t have a problem,” he said.
Since Mr Perera’s visit, China and India have been in the news due to a number of alleged “border incursions” by Chinese troops into disputed territory, the last of which allegedly occurred in July.
But the two counties also forged positive ties in May when China’s new Premier Li Keqiang chose to make his debut international trip to India. Premier Li met with India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the pair reportedly discussed ways to boost economic ties and trust.
Mr Perera said while India seemed to having growing common interests with the US it was not part of an alliance with the country, unlike Australia.
Mr Perera said he made the trip to India primarily to develop relationships that could be useful for Victoria. It just so happened he was so struck by the foreign policy attitudes he found there, that he named the report he wrote on the trip “Engagement with non-aligned country”.
“I was just excited by what I learned, I was so impressed by their non-aligned stand.
“But the trip was more about establishing relationships and developing people-to-people links which will hopefully in the longer term help create an investment.”
“As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs, it’s my responsibility to build up relationships with ethnic communities in Victoria.
“But the role also covers visiting big countries to build up those relationships.”
Mr Perera said Victoria’s interest in building ties with India had been growing over the past four to five years, and the current government seemed more serious about gaining a foothold in the country than ever.
“To be fair this government has taken it a little bit more aggressively [than Victoria’s previous Labor government],” he said.
“They have made a number of trade missions to India.
“In the past only bureaucrats went over. This government has taken a different path, to make it a little bit more high profile.”