Australia calls its participation in Malabar exercise a ‘milestone opportunity’

Clay Curtis
October 20, 2020

India on Monday said Australia will participate in its annual naval exercise with the USA and Japan next month, the first time since 2007, in a move expected to give a boost to defense cooperation among the four members of the quadrilateral security dialogue, or "Quad", while raising eyebrows in China.

With the inclusion of Australia, it will mean that the Malabar exercise will include all the countries of the so-called "Quad" after the grouping got its second wind three years ago.

The Malabar exercise started in 1992 as a bilateral drill between the Indian Navy and the US Navy in the Indian Ocean. The exercise aims to strengthen India's force by increasing coordination between the navies of the participating countries. They collectively support free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific and remain committed to a rules-based worldwide order, the statement added.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the exercise has been planned on a "non-contact-at-sea" format.

In 2018, the annual Malabar exercise was held off the coast of Guam in the Philippine Sea, while it was held off the coast in Japan in 2019. "Japan joined the naval exercise in 2015", India's defence ministry said.

The drill comes at a time of diplomatic tensions between China and Australia, economic tensions between China and the USA and military tensions between China and India.

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"Exercise Malabar also showcases the deep trust between four major Indo-Pacific democracies and their shared will to work together on common security interests", Australian defence minister Linda Reynolds said.

All four participants of the Malabar naval exercise will engage in enhancing safety and security in the maritime domain.

Sources in the defence ministry said India was expanding bilateral cooperation with Japan, the U.S. and Australia in the Indo-Pacific region with an effort to contain China's growing clout there.

The top diplomats agreed that their countries will work together toward a free and open Indo-Pacific region, apparently with China's growing maritime presence in mind.

But that was before China's emergence as a rising superpower, a reality that has prompted many to argue the Quad - a strategic forum first suggested in 2007 by Mr. Abe and later embraced by the Trump administration as part of its 2017 Indo-Pacific strategy - is ripe for expansion. The announcement came amid India's border tensions with China. "Once we've institutionalised what we're doing - the four of us together - we can begin to build out a true security framework", Pompeo had told Nikkei Asia.

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