Stage set for Australia to be part of next Malabar exercise with India, US, Japan

At a virtual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his counterpart Scott Morrison last month, India and Australia elevated their ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership and signed the crucial Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) for reciprocal access to bases, medical and training facilities, spares and fuel.
According to people familiar with developments, Australia’s inclusion in the trilateral exercise is only a matter of time, given burgeoning security and defence ties between New Delhi and Canberra.(File Photo)
According to people familiar with developments, Australia’s inclusion in the trilateral exercise is only a matter of time, given burgeoning security and defence ties between New Delhi and Canberra.(File Photo)
Updated on Jul 17, 2020 10:29 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByRezaul H Laskar and Rahul Singh

The stage is set for Australia to be part of the next Malabar naval exercise conducted by India with the US and Japan, with people familiar with developments saying the wargame’s expansion will complement growing strategic and security cooperation among the four countries.

The people, who spoke on condition of anonymity, indicated Australia’s inclusion in the trilateral exercise is only a matter of time, given burgeoning security and defence ties between New Delhi and Canberra. The next edition of Malabar, already delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, is set to be held by the end of the year.

However, the formal invitation to Australia is expected to be extended after some time in view of the delicate negotiations between India and China on disengagement and de-escalation to end their standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the people said. They noted there is still some time to go for holding the exercise.

It has also become clear that Australia will join the exercise if it is formally invited, one of the people cited above said.

When India and the US initially sought to expand the Malabar exercise in 2007 by inviting Australia, Japan and Singapore to participate, the move had not gone down well with China. That was the first and only time Australia joined the naval drills, which were begun in 1994 to increase interoperability between the Indian and US navies and enhance cooperative security relations between the two sides.

China has also been wary of the Quadrilateral security dialogue or Quad that was revived in late 2017 by India, the US, Australia and Japan, and these suspicions have increased since the four countries upgraded the forum to the ministerial level last year.

At a virtual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his counterpart Scott Morrison last month, India and Australia elevated their ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership and signed the crucial Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) for reciprocal access to bases, medical and training facilities, spares and fuel.

In light of these developments, experts say inviting Australia to join the Malabar exercise will be a welcome step. Rear Admiral (retired) Sudarshan Shrikhande, a military affairs expert, said the Quad is getting greater traction from member countries in the face of China’s growing belligerence in the western Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean and Himalayas.

“We shouldn’t be worried about China’s sensitivities. We should be mindful of our own interests. Beijing doesn’t care for anyone’s sensitivities,” he said.

The people cited above noted that defence and security forms a key part of the India-Australia relationship and both have zeroed in on the joint goal of promoting peace, security, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific. The bilateral AUSINDEX naval exercise, started in 2015, has also grown in complexity, and the third edition held last year was a “very complex” drill involving warships, submarines and aircraft from both sides.

“This type of exercise indicates a very high level of comfort in operating together,” said another person who declined to be named.

Sameer Patil, fellow for international security studies at Gateway House, said: “China sees such developments about the Malabar exercise as the four countries ganging up against it. But it is the Chinese who have given us a strong reason to include Australia in this exercise.

“Besides, if the China factor doesn’t propel the four countries to come together, I don’t know what else will propel them to work more closely together in the region.”

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Thursday, July 07, 2022