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India refused to stop importing oil from Russia. Next, they refused to engage in any military activity against China. As a result, the USA made Japan the new representative of the rules-based international order in Asia.

The USA goaded Australia into its conflict with China.

My question is: Given that India and Australia are both close US allies, why can India maintain an independent foreign policy but Australia cannot?

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  • What exactly are you asking here? I see two articles talking about what India has done, one about Japan and nothing about Australia.
    – Joe W
    Aug 14, 2023 at 14:59
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    Why can't an ally of a country support that countries goals without being accused of not having independent foreign polices?
    – Joe W
    Aug 14, 2023 at 15:07
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    Is india a US ally? It was, if anything, closer to the Soviet Union during the cold war, and for the most part still adopts a position of dealing with both Russia and the US as best suits its interests. India quite reasonably has no intention as far as I can see of allying strongly with either country.
    – PhillS
    Aug 14, 2023 at 15:07
  • @PhillS, India has signed multiple defence pacts with USA, and also part of Quad.
    – user366312
    Aug 14, 2023 at 15:09
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    Voting not to close - This is a good question from the perspective of someone who doesn't understand the nature of relationship between India and the US and Australia and the US. Australia is part of the Five Eyes program and was recently provided nuclear tech by the US for its submarines, whereas India has been sanctioned by the US for its independent nuclear program. It can be certainly be confusing to someone who doesn't international politics how these 2 countries can be US allies.
    – sfxedit
    Aug 15, 2023 at 15:41

3 Answers 3

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What makes you think Australia's foreign policy, at least with regards to China and Russia, aren't largely decided by Australian public sentiment?

For example, there has been a recurring concern about Chinese influence in Australian politics - along with some accusations of racism. What makes you think this is not a primarily domestic concern, that the Aussies have managed to cook up all on their own, like grown ups?

Or that Australians, for unfathomable reasons of their own, would object to Russia's behavior in Ukraine? Even as, also for incomprehensible motives, India would see the actions of a long term ally in a different light?

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Let's take this point by point.

India refused to stop importing oil from Russia.

There is no international ban on importing Russian oil. The G7, not the United States, restricted the price countries who wanted to do business with them could pay for Russian oil. Capping it at $60 per barrel when other oil producing countries were getting around twice that. The G7 did this in order to deprive Russia increased profits their aggression against Ukraine might otherwise have afforded them. Australia would not violate the G-7 policy if they imported Russian oil. As neither India nor China are violating the policy who are importing Russian oil paying up to $60 per barrel..

The Price Cap on Russian Oil: A Progress Report

A year ago at the G7 Summit in Elmau, the leaders agreed to pursue a policy to cap the price of Russian oil to prevent Russia from continuing to earn a wartime premium. The price cap policy is a novel tool of economic statecraft designed to achieve two seemingly contradictory goals: restricting Russia’s oil revenues while maintaining the supply of Russian oil. Meeting these goals would make it harder for Russia to fund its brutal war in Ukraine while keeping energy costs down for consumers and businesses around the world. Nearly six months after implementation, the price cap is achieving both goals. We will continue to monitor dynamics in the global oil market going forward and adjust as necessary in support of these goals. Russian exports have continued to flow, contributing to global oil market stability. Even as global oil prices have remained stable, the price of Russian oil has fallen significantly—driving down the Kremlin’s revenue. Immediately after the invasion, Russia received windfall profits on an oil price spike created by its war in Ukraine. But today, the price cap policy is taking that windfall off the table, which allows for low- and middle- income countries to purchase oil while at the same time making it increasingly challenging for Russia to finance its aggression.

Next, they refused to engage in any military activity against China.

To my knowledge nobody has engaged in any military activities against China. The United States, India, Japan, and Australia have however conducted freedom of navigation cruises through the South China Sea, as well as joint war games in the South China Sea. As well as discussions about a new security alliance loosely called the Quad (core members, Australia, Japan, India and the U.S.) All concerned states in the face of various Chinese actions.

As a result, the USA made Japan the new representative of the rules-based international order in Asia.

I think China did that when they claimed territorial waters including much of the first island chain. Perhaps because Japanese home islands are part of the first island chain. This has resulted in literally thousands of violations of Japan's exclusive economic zone and some difficult confrontations with China in Japan's own home waters. Nothing impresses a nation they need a little law and order like record setting incursions by a country claiming your territory as their own.

China’s Navy Sets Record Pace for Intrusions Into Japan’s Territorial Sea

The USA goaded Australia into its conflict with China.

As I remember China impressed upon Australia the necessity of closer ties with the UK and US all by themselves. What was that term again China's "wolf warrior diplomat" used to refer to Australians? The "Poor white trash of the South Pacific". Yeah that was the line.

China lashes Australia as ‘poor white trash’ of Asia

As I remember the timeline went something like this. Australia was one of several countries which publicly called for an international investigation into the origins of Covid. Then China boycotted Australia's exports. Then they called Australia racial slurs. Then Australia started looking at modernizing and expanding their military and then Australia agreed to host a larger presence of the US Military including a new Navy Base, Submarine Base, an Airbases.. etc.

Supporting US military against China could draw Australia into nuclear war, expert warns

Or maybe not having any perceived military ability to defend yourself will invite Chinese aggression. Ask Tibet, Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, or the Philippians. I could go on. Indonesia, Micronesia, Brunei and that's just off the top of my head.

Given that India and Australia are both close US allies, why can India maintain an independent foreign policy but Australia cannot?

India and Australia are both independent countries, and their different foreign policies reflect that.

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Your confusion is due to the misunderstanding that India and Australia have a similar level of relationship with the United States of America. They do not.

The Indian-American alliance can be summed up as a recent needs-based alliance which is still not well-defined. Whereas the Australian-American alliance is built on shared racial and cultural heritage, and has spanned more than 5+ decades now.

Australia's alliance with the US has its root in the post-WW 2 'Atlantic Charter', which deepened during the cold war, and is reflected in the later "Five Eyes Alliance", where the Anglosphere even share intelligence with each other. Such a deep level of relationship often intertwines a country's military and foreign policy with each other, and leaves less room for independent actions. Thus, Australia's military and foreign policy will necessarily be influenced by the alliance's own concerns. So if the alliance, lead by the US, believes China is an adversary, Australia also has to accept that or leave the alliance.

That is why Australia has less flexibility in its foreign policy, on some issues like dealing with China.

India and the US, on the other hand, do not have a similar kind of relationship. In fact, for the most part, during the cold war, India did not see eye to eye with the Americans about the Russians, and were sometimes even adversaries. On China though, India does agree with the American perspective that China does pose a threat to India and other developing nation. And it is thus more willing to engage with the US.

Nevertheless, it is unwilling to be a part of any permanent military alliance because it recognizes that it will severely curtail its military and foreign policy. (This fear has its roots in India's colonial history, and its own understanding of how the superpower use developing countries for their own political purposes.)

This is evident in India's foreign policy that was crafted by India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, which is popularly known as the "non-alignment" policy. It was initially created to counter the persistent demands of the super powers to join the cold-war, by forming a military alliance with one of them. This policy has been the bedrock of India's foreign policy, since its independence, because Nehru emphasised that India could create space for independent thinking and actions, however restricted, in all its international relationships, if India was pragmatic about its own position in the world order:

If we have to make our own decisions, we have to rely on our own judgement and analysis of the situation, and to keep in view our basic objectives and the foreign policy we have been pursuing thus far.

Some words are used loosely, and among these, is “neutrality”. Neutrality in peacetime has no particular meaning. It is only in war that a country can be neutral. But even in so-called peacetime, ever since the last World War ended, we have lived in an atmosphere of war and expectation of war, and hence people talk of this or that country being neutral in the cold war.

In reality, all that this means is that we have not given up the right to decide for ourselves as to what we should do and what we should not do in any particular set of circumstances. To give up that right to decide means to give up both our independence of judgement and independence of action. In other words, it means to give up our basic independence and become a satellite of some other country tied down to a policy which we may or may not like.

India has, within the inevitable limitations imposed by events, tried to follow her own independent policy in foreign, as in other affairs. No country can be hundred per cent independent in such matters because every act or policy flows from other acts done before and other things happening in the world.

But within those limitations, one can be more or less independent. We have preferred to be more independent. That was not only an idealistic approach but, I think, an eminently practical way of dealing with current problems.

To sum up, Australia feels the needs of being in an alliance with the US to preserve its economic prosperity and its military security, vis China. This has an influence on its foreign and military policy. Where as India does not believe a military alliance against China is in its best interest, and thus can act more freely than Australia.

References:

  1. Five Eyes
  2. The concept of non-alignment forged by Nehru has found renewed interest in the global south
  3. Nehru's Word: A parliament session on foreign policy

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