Insights into Editorial: Four corners of a good deal
10 March 2016
The U.S.-Japan-India trilateral has gained momentum in recent years, with regular meetings and a variety of collective exercises. This proves that India has begun to exert its leadership in the Asia-Pacific region.
- But, it is not possible for India to be a world leader or an Asian leader without first being a South Asian leader. For this to happen, the support of Australia is also necessary.
- Few experts have been pitching for a greater cooperation between the U.S., India, Japan, and Australia. But, often this quadrilateral relationship is depicted only in defence terms. The four-way arrangement has made much less progress and has largely been limited to some meetings and naval exercises several years back.
- But, a closer relationship between these four key democracies is necessary for India’s overall growth and can also boost India’s tenuous energy security in a big way.
India’s energy dependency:
India’s energy deficiency and ever increasing needs are well-known. It is also true that for Indian economic growth to return to double digits, energy supplies must increase by three to four times over the next few decades.
- Deficits, however, are immense — including, for electricity alone, peak demand deficits of 25% in some southern States. This has made India largely depend on other countries to meet its demands.
- 80% of India’s oil is imported.
- Coal imports have also increased by as much as 56% in a single year.
- India also imports 40% of its uranium.
- Import of natural gas is also increasing.
India’s dependency on other countries is always fraught with risk.
- Many, if not most, of its hydrocarbon imports come from unstable or faraway regions.
- Two thirds of its oil comes from West Asia, and distant Venezuela is also a key source of oil. Additionally, India sees great potential in gas-rich Central Asia. However, because Pakistan denies India transit rights to Afghanistan, India lacks direct access to the region.
- India is now planning to enhance its access to Central Asia by developing the Chabahar port in southern Iran. However, so long as Afghanistan remains unstable, access to Central Asia via Chabahar will be difficult.
- TAPI pipeline project is a good move. But, Afghanistan’s security problems make this gas pipeline an unlikely prospect.
- Meanwhile, the lifting of sanctions on Iran following its nuclear deal with the U.S. opens up energy possibilities for India, which has reduced its imports from Iran in recent years. However, New Delhi faces serious competition from other importers rushing to cash in.
- India has also lost out many opportunities in this sector, while China has seized them.
How can Australia be a game-changer?
Australia can provide immense energy benefits to India. It already provides sizeable quantities of coal and uranium cooperation between the two countries has also been explored.
- Australia is a top global producer of LNG. And in recent times, India has shown a strong desire to capitalise on Australia’s gas riches. With LNG prices having fallen by 75% since 2014, the timing could not be more ripe to explore deeper energy cooperation — particularly given the volatile location of Qatar, the top current source of India’s LNG imports.
- Additionally, India could leverage a closer relationship with Australia to engage more deeply with the latter’s neighbour, Indonesia, which provides India more than 60% of its current coal imports. This would also help advance India’s “Act East” policy.
- A closer relationship with Australia and Indonesia would further ease the burden on India’s naval forces of protecting energy assets in areas more far-flung than Southeast Asia.
- Additionally, Indonesia and Australia — despite their proximity to the South China Sea and their susceptibility to Islamist militancy, including attacks by the Islamic State — are far more stable than West Asia, which would ease concerns about the security of Indian energy assets and imports originating in these two countries.
The time is ripe for India to explore ways to increase cooperation with Australia. One way to achieve this is by reviving the quadrilateral relationship. This could also enhance energy engagement with the U.S. and Japan.
- Besides, all four countries have an interest in energy infrastructure development. Japan, US and Australia have all signed on to the India-led International Solar Alliance. Japan and India are also offtakers for U.S. LNG projects.
In recent years, a major roadblock to the quadrilateral relationship was Australia, which withdrew from the arrangement in 2013, citing concerns about China’s reaction. But, now with the new government the country has expressed renewed support for resurrecting it. For India, reviving the quadrilateral relationship may not make much sense from a national security perspective. However, viewed through the lens of energy security, it arguably makes very good sense.