ndia plans to invite Australia to join the annual Malabar naval exercise that has so far included just Japan and the U.S., in a move that could risk China’s ire.
The decision to include Australia in the drills — the first time all members of the regional grouping known as the Quad will be engaged at a military level — comes as Beijing and New Delhi are caught up in their worst border tensions in four decades. The exercise will bring together the navies of India, Japan, Australia and the U.S. in the Bay of Bengal at the end of the year.
New Delhi is expected to clear the way for a formal invitation to Australia following final government clearance and consultations with the U.S. and Japan. The timing of India potentially letting Australia into Malabar would be especially significant at this juncture. China has been uncomfortable with the informal coalition of four democracies, which was first formed in 2004 to help nations in the Indo-Pacific after the tsunami and revived in 2017. Post the coronavirus pandemic, the grouping has been coordinating efforts every month with Vietnam, South Korea and New Zealand.
While the Malabar exercises between U.S. and Indian navies were instituted in 1992, they have been more regular since 2004 with other Asian nations joining in the annual event. China had objected to the only other time Australia participated in the drills along with India, Japan, U.S. and Singapore in 2007. India’s inclusion of Australia this year follows a defense agreement and upgrading ties to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. The Mutual Logistics support agreement allows access to each other’s bases and ports. India has a similar agreement with the U.S.
Especially after Galwan, there’s a growing realization in New Delhi’s elite circles that it’s increasingly difficult to trust China. They have broken more than four decades of agreements. Good trade ties are no guarantee of peace. With Washington indicating its willingness to back the region through an increased force deployment in Asia, the Malabar exercises may take on more importance.