World vs China: Risking China’s rage, India to invite Australia for naval drill

New Delhi: India is planning to invite Australia to join the annual Malabar naval exercise that takes place in the Bay of Bengal at the end of the year. So far, only Japan and the U.S. were included. 

The decision to include Australia in the drills is said to have been taken due to Beijing and New Delhi being caught up in one of the worst border tensions in four decades. This will also be the first time where all the members of the regional grouping (United States, Japan, Australia and India) known as the ‘Quad’ will be engaged at a military level. 

A formal invitation to Australia is said to be on the clear next week by New Delhi, following final government clearance and consultation with the U.S and Japan. 

Inclusion of Australia into the games follows a defence agreement and upgrading ties to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between the two countries. Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Scott Morrison in May announced The Mutual Logistics support agreement which allows access to each other’s bases and ports. India also has a similar agreement with the U.S. 

Derek Grossman, a researcher at the Washington-based RAND Corporation who also worked in the U.S intelligence community for more than a decade. “The inclusion of Australia to Malabar at this point would be very significant, It would also send a powerful message to China that the Quad is de facto conducting joint naval exercises, even if not technically conducting them under the auspicious Quad event.” 

China has always been uncomfortable with the informal coalition of the four democracies, which had first formed in 2004 to help the nations in the Indo-Pacific after the tsunami hit. The Quad also revived in 2017. Post the covid-19 pandemic, they have been coordinating efforts every month with Vietnam, South Korea and New Zealand. 

The Malabar exercises between U.S. and Indian navies instituted in 1992, and they have been more regular with the drills since 2004 with other Asian nations joining the infamous annual event. China had objected to taking part in the only time when Australia also joined the drills along with India, Japan, U.S. and Singapore in 2007. 

Even during the 2015 U.S.- India annual Malabar event, China objected to Japan’s inclusion, with the then foreign ministry warning “relevant countries” to not “provoke confrontation and create tension” in the region. 

India and China are in the process of disengagement at the unmarked boundary of 3,488 km in the Himalayas, and the deadly clashes that followed the months-long standoff in the Galwan Valley was a bow to the relations between the nuclear-armed neighbours. 

Rajeshwari Pillai Rajagopalan, a distinguished fellow at New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, said that after Galwan, there’s a growing realization among the Delhi’s elite circle that it is difficult to trust China, and that they have time and time again tried to interfere in other nations’ foreign policy and that China should not have a say in who our friends are.  

“The Quad has always been a security platform so far, but it did not have any military context to it. The Malabar exercises might just give it that thanks to China upping its ante and threatening the region’s security.” Rajagopalan added.

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