India's Sachin Tendulkar comes off the field after being dismissed as he scored his 100th international centuries against Bangladesh during their One Day International (ODI) cricket match of Asia Cup in Dhaka March 16, 2012.
She made the remarks in New Delhi as part of her three-day business trip which includes initiating negotiations for sale of uranium to India. Ms Gillard also announced the award of the Order of Australia to Indian cricketer Sachen Tendulkar which is seen by some political quarters as part of her strategy to foster closer ties with the Asian nation with more than 1 billion potential consumers.
"For Australia, our goal is for a partnership with India which reflects your standing along with the U.S., Japan, China, Indonesia and the Republic of Korea as one of the handful of countries which matters most to Australia," News.com.au quoted Ms Gillard.
"Australia's future in Asia is firmly grounded in relationships of respect with Washington, Tokyo, Beijing, Jakarta, Seoul and Delhi. We know India's importance in the Asian Century," she said.
With Ms Gillard is trucking boss Lindsay Fox who has 3,000 employees in India, who are among the 3 per cent of Indians that now enjoys regular disposable money for the first time and ready use their purchasing power. Looking beyond the 3 per cent, he said the 1.2 billion Indian offered great business opportunities for Australia.
"That's a hell of a lot of tomatoes, bananas, cows, sheep or anything that we can produce in Australia. You look at Asia and India, they represent half of the world's population with 3.4 billion," Mr Fox said.
A vital aspect of Ms Gillard's visit is the resumption of talks for the sale or uranium to India, which was pushed by Dr Harsh Pant, professor of International Relations at King's College in London.
"India's own proliferation record is very good . . . India has complied with most of the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) provisions, though it has not signed the NPT, as the rest of the world has recognised India's nuclear credentials, many in India had argued that Canberra should at least acknowledge the fact that India's proliferation records is not bad, and therefore uranium sales should commence," Mr Pant told Radio Australia.
Like the controversy that the planned sale of uranium to India has generated, the announcement by Ms Gillard of the award of the Order of Australia to Mr Tendulkar is also creating the impression that she is using it to further court the favour of India.
Ms Gillard acknowledged that the order is rarely awarded to non-Australian citizens, although Canberra has bestowed the order in 2009 to Brian Lara for service to Australia-Caribbean relations through the sport. Australian Minister Simon Crean will award the Order to Mr Tendulkar when he visits India.
Federal independent MP Rob Oakeshott criticised the decision of Ms Gillard which he said was apparently done for diplomatic points.
"I love Sachen Tendulkar, I love cricket, but I just have a problem with soft diplomacy as you call it," ABC quoted the MP who insisted the Order should be instead awarded to Australians doing community work.
Even the Australian cricket community is against the award to Mr Tendulkar, who they admitted is a great batsman, but pointed to his role in the Andrew Symonds scandal.
They pointed to the cricketer's telling a lie to the International Cricket Council (ICC) appeal after Harbhajan Singh was suspended for racial abuse on Andrew Symonds during the Sydney Test in 2008.
Mr Tendulkar initially said he didn't hear what Mr Harbhajan said, but later told the ICC that the latter did not call Mr Symonds a monkey but used a Hindi word of abuse that could sound like monkey to Australian ears.
"Cricket is of course a great bond between Australia and India. We are both cricket-mad nations," Ms Gillard was quoted by The Herald Sun.
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