China's willingness to accept criticism had disappeared, said Michael Fullilove of the Lowy Institute

Noting that the world was heading towards a prolonged period of bipolar competition in the Indo Pacific, a leading Australian strategic affairs expert has said that China had become "much more aggressive" since 2012.

"Since the accession of President Xi Jinping in 2012, China has become much more aggressive in the waters to its east and west, and in its relations with other states," Michael Fullilove, Executive Director, Lowy Institute, said on Friday.

He was delivering the second Atal Bihari Vajpayee Memorial Lecture organised by the Ministry of External Affairs.

Indians had also become increasingly familiar with China's newfound assertiveness, "for which Indian soldiers have paid with their lives," he pointed out during the lecture.

"Both the United States and China have exhibited troubling behaviour over the past decade," Fullilove added.

Explaining the situation vis-a-vis China, he argued, "Its foreign policies have hardened; the constraints on people within China have tightened; its willingness to accept criticism has disappeared".

According to him, the fluctuations in US policy and the severity of Chinese behaviour was prompting three important developments in Indo Pacific security.

* A number of regional powers are adopting a larger view of their own potential and increasing their freedom of movement.

* There have been important institutional developments in the Indo Pacific, foremost among them, US President Joe Biden's elevation of the Quad to the leader’s level.

* The strengthening of bilateral relationships between likeminded countries.

"I've been very impressed by the steps taken by the Indian government to protect its sovereignty and adopt a flexible foreign policy suited to the times, including an upgraded relationship with the United States, and membership of important new institutional arrangements such as the Quad," he noted.

Referring to the latest edition of the Lowy Institute Asia power index, Fullilove said it indicates that neither the United States nor China will be able to exert undisputed primacy in our region.

"A bipolar future beckons. In this future, the decisions made by other Indo Pacific powers, including India and Australia will be highly consequential. Our actions may well constitute the marginal difference, he argued.

India-Australia bilateral relations

"The bilateral relationship between New Delhi and Canberra has the character of a long innings at the crease. We started off slowly, but now that we've settled in, we're taking our shots and the runs are flowing," Fullilove said.

He pointed out that the India-Australia comprehensive strategic partnership encompasses regular meetings of Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers and Defence Ministers as well as military exercises and military to military contacts.

"I believe we should establish a high level Strategic Economic Dialogue between Australia and India. We should improve the interoperability between the Australian Defence Force and the Indian armed forces, especially in the area of maritime domain awareness," he said.

According to Fullilove, countries such as India and Australia had the wherewithal to help shape Asia's future. "But we need to believe in ourselves and in each other," he added.

"We live in a time of great strategic flux. I'm confident that Australia and India can help determine the complexion of the game, if we have the strategic imagination to do so," Fullilove argued.

Describing former Prime Minister Vajpayee as a poet as well as a politician, Fullilove said he was a leader with a hinterland. Both as External Affairs Minister and Prime Minister, his statecraft was creative and imaginative, he added.

"In his overtures to competitors and adversaries, his belief in the relationship between India and the United States and his determination to Look East, Prime Minister Vajpayee showed a willingness to shrug off the habits of the past and seek new friends and new ways of doing things," he noted.