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Australia 'failed' India in resolving racial row: WikiLeaks

March 31, 2011 10:47 IST

The then Australian deputy prime minister Julia Gillard's visit to India in 2009 during a spate of racial attacks on Indian students in Australia was a 'wasted opportunity' as it failed to quell the rising tide of anger in the country over the assaults, whistle-blower website WikiLeaks has revealed.
 
Diplomatic cables unveiled by WikiLeaks disclose that Gillard's India visit secured only 'vague commitments' on the burning issue in the country.

According to former Australian consul general to Mumbai Shabbir Wahid, Gillard, who later became Australia's premiere, spent more time talking about educational opportunities to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rather than the violence against Indian students.

 The revelation is a further blow to the international affairs credentials of Gillard who declared last year that foreign policy was not her 'passion''.

'I came into politics predominantly to make a difference…in education,' the Sydney Morning Herald quoted her as saying.

Wahid, a prominent Melbourne businessman, also told the US consulate in Melbourne that Australia was missing substantial commercial opportunities in India.

"According to Wahid, Gillard focused too narrowly on her education minister portfolio, coming away from her meeting with PM Singh with only vague commitments,' US Consul-General Michael Thurston wrote in a cable from the Melbourne consulate on October 20, 2009.

A visit by the then Victorian premier John Brumby to India was 'similarly ineffective', the state's treasurer John Lenders was quoted as saying to Thurston.

"High-level visits by Australian officials have had only a limited impact on cooling tempers still hot from a spike in violence," Thurston wrote in the cable.

The situation highlighted the fragility in the India-Australia relationship, with the then foreign minister Stephen Smith even comparing the relationship between both nations to a Twenty20 cricket match, saying: "Short bursts of enthusiasm followed by lengthy periods of inactivity".

Dr Singh described India and Australia as two "countries with so much in common, but so little to do with one another".

Dr Singh is set to visit Australia in October for the Commonwealth heads of government meeting, in what will be the first visit by an Indian prime minister in a quarter of a century.

While the economic fortunes of the two countries are increasingly intertwined -- over 24 million tonnes of Australian coking coal fuels India's ever-expanding manufacturing industries, and Indian international students were worth up to 3 billion dollars a year to the Australian economy at the peak of enrolments -- a strong relationship has proved elusive so far. 

Although both nations have attempted to strengthen the relationship, with ministerial visits and expanded diplomatic presences, "Australia has remained on the periphery of Indian foreign relations", Thurston wrote in the cable.

The attacks on students remain a raw issue in many Indian communities and Australia's continued refusal to sell uranium to Delhi blights the relations between the two countries.

Source: ANI