Malcolm Turnbull took a substantial delegation of business and university leaders to India this week with the aim of re-energising a partnership with India that has languished in the last few years.

That torpor contrasts sharply with the progress made back in the 2000s, when bilateral ties markedly improved in various areas. The value of two-way trade grew from about $3.3m in 2000 to about $20bn at the end of the decade. Progress was made in security and defence cooperation, with the first India-Australia Strategic Dialogue held in 2001 and substantive agreements signed during Prime Ministerial visits to New Delhi in 2006 and 2009. A substantial Strategic Research Fund was created to stimulate scientific collaboration. People-to-people contacts also burgeoned. By 2007-08 some 35,000 Indian students were at universities and colleges in Australia, and Indian skilled migrants also began to flow into the country, reaching a level of 30,000 per annum by 2011-12.

In the past five years or so, however, progress in deepening and broadening ties has been patchy, despite significant efforts, especially by Canberra, to break the impasse. The Gillard government was especially active in this regard, initiating negotiations for a preferential trade deal, the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), and dropping the ban on uranium sales to India, which had long rankled New Delhi, both in 2011. Also of note was Tony Abbott’s attempt to build a strong personal bond with Narendra Modi after the latter’s elevation to the Prime Ministership in 2014.

These approaches have only partially borne fruit. Most problematically, the value of bilateral trade has remained stubbornly within the $15bn to $20bn range. No end is in sight to the negotiations for the CECA, with sticking points on both sides: the Indians want more flexible arrangements for Indians wishing to work in Australia and the Australians want greater access to India’s presently tightly-protected market for agricultural products. The specific issue of Adani’s multi-billion dollar investment in Queensland’s Carmichael mine project, which has provoked local controversy, has also complicated matters, given Gautam Adani’s close ties to Modi.

Australia has, of course, done better in making its universities and colleges attractive destinations for Indian students, with around 60,000 enrolling in 2016. And partly as a result, but also because skilled Indians are keen to work in Australia’s finance and IT sectors, the community of Indian-origin Australian residents has grown to just under half a million.

But it is the areas of defence and security cooperation that most of the progress in the official relationship has arguably been made, as the perceptions of the major strategic challenges in the Indo-Pacific converge.

The outcomes of Malcolm Turnbull’s visit to India this week reflect this wider picture of the Australia-India relationship. While the 120-strong delegation travelling with the Prime Minister was heavy with vice-chancellors and business leaders, it is notable that the Joint Statement released by the two governments focused much more on strategic and security issues than on economics or education.

True, the Turnbull government has agreed to engage with India in the ongoing negotiations for a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), involving ASEAN, China, and Japan, among others. True too, it announced that an India Economic Strategy by an independent group led by former DFAT Secretary Pater Varghese will examine opportunities for Australian business and possible ways forward for the CECA discussions. But as David Brewster has rightly argued, the big gap between the economic philosophies of protectionist India and free-trading Australia will likely to stymie growth in merchandise and services trade for some time to come.

India’s immense education needs clearly present a good short- and medium-term opportunity, as Simon Birmingham’s prominence in the delegation attested. It was telling, however, that all the major announcements concerning higher education initiatives concerned research. India’s university and vocational training sectors need rapid upgrades, but remain too highly regulated for foreign providers seeking to break into that market.

In comparison, the agreements announced on strategic and security issues were more substantial. Defence diplomacy and cooperation has progressed beyond the focus on maritime security and the Indian Ocean that marked the first phase of engagement during the 2000s and early 2010s. The Australian Defence Force will soon exercise for the first time with the Indian Army, building on earlier Special Forces training activities, and the two navies will exercise again in 2018. The two sides will also soon hold 2+2 talks between peak foreign affairs and defence officials, mirroring similar arrangements each has with Japan. And both agreed to closer cooperation on counter-terrorism, people-trafficking, transnational organised crime, and aviation security.

Whether all of this will inject energy into the Australia India partnership is a moot point. There has been no shortage of commentators this week making the argument that the relationship lacks ballast, particularly in trade and investment. They have a point: it is lop-sided, with more weight on the side of defence and security side than on the economic. But so too, in a rather different way, is Australia’s relationship with that other regional giant, China.

Ian Hall is the acting Director of the Griffith Asia Institute at Griffith University and an Academic Fellow of the Australia India Institute at the University of Melbourne.