Exercise Malabar is a quadrilateral naval exercise involving the United States, Japan, Australia, and India as permanent partners. Initially begun in 1992 as a bilateral exercise between India and the United States, Japan became a permanent partner in 2015. The past non-permanent participants were Singapore. The annual Malabar series began in 1992 and includes diverse activities, ranging from fighter combat operations from aircraft carriers through Maritime Interdiction Operations Exercises.

India’s inclusion of Australia this year follows a defence agreement and upgrading ties to a Comprehensive Strategic partnership. The mutual logistic support agreement announced in May by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Scott Morrison allows access to each other, base and ports.

With the decision to include Australia in India’s drills in 2020, it will be the first time all members of the regional grouping known as the Quad will be engaging militarily.

The 24th edition of the Malabar exercise, delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, will be held from November 3.

It was decided that Australia shall also be a part of the Malabar Naval exercise to support a free, open, and rule-based Indo Pacific. The decision to include Australia in the drills comes as Beijing and New Delhi are caught up in their worst border tension in four decades. Australia last participated in the Malabar exercise in 2007.

Quadrilateral grouping of US, Japan, India, and Australia are sending their warships for the Malabar Exercise in November. US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E Biegun on October 20 said that Quad should be “more regularised”, and at some point, “formalised” with time.

This is the first time that navies of all the four ‘Quad’ countries are participating in a naval exercise together.

The first phase of the Malabar Exercise featuring India, the US, Japan, and Australia will occur from November 3 to 6 in the Bay of Bengal off Visakhapatnam coast, officials said on Friday.

The second phase is scheduled to occur from November 17 to 20 in the Arabian Sea, they said.

This will be the first time in 30 years the four nations—collectively known as Quad—will join forces for the mega war games.

The Indian navy will deploy several critical platforms in the exercise, including destroyer Ranvijay, frigate Shivalik, off-shore petrol vessel Sukanya, fleet support ship Shakti and submarine Sindhuraj.

Besides, advanced jet trainer Hawk, long-range maritime patrol aircraft P-18, Dornier maritime patrol aircraft, and several helicopters will also participate in the exercise, the official said.

The United States already has supercarrier Nimitz in the Gulf and Ronald Reagan in the Bay of Bengal, both possible drill participants.

Japan’s navy is likely to send its two “Izumo-class” helicopter Carriers, Sharma said, the largest in its fleet and have been part of the exercise for several years.

Australia could send one of its newest ships, such as the destroyer Hobart, he added.

The Indian Naval team in the exercises will be led by Rear Admiral Sanjay Vatsayan, Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Fleet.

 

The Uneasiness of China:

There is no doubt that the QUAD is directly aimed at China. However, it has never emerged as an ‘Asian NATO’ as China terms it. The Chinese consider the QUAD a threat. After the meeting, their embassy in Tokyo commented, “We hope that relevant countries will do more to enhance mutual understanding and trust among countries in the region and promote regional peace, stability and development, and not the opposite.”

China has been uncomfortable with forming four-nation coalition of four democracies, which was first developed in 2004.

China had strongly objected to the India-US Malabar exercise in the Bay of Bengal in 2007 when it was expanded to include Japan, Australia, and Singapore, firm in its belief that a military naval construct was emerging to “counter and contain” in the region.

China had objected to Japan’s inclusion in the US-India annual Malabar event in 2015 and the then foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei warning “relevant countries” to not provoke confrontation and create tension” in the region.

On Tuesday, China said it has “taken note” of India’s announcement that Australia will join the annual Malabar naval exercise along with the US and Japan, underlining that military cooperation should be “conducive” to regional peace and stability.

“We always believe that military cooperation between countries should be conducive to regional peace and stability,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in a brief reaction.

A Global Times (GT) editorial, a daily tabloid newspaper under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party, said that Australia’s inclusion in the Malabar exercise is aimed at putting pressure on China.

The tabloid blamed the US for turning the Quad into the ‘Asian NATO’. “The three [India, Japan, and Australia] have seen a “threat” because they are unaccustomed to China’s rise, but have developed real relationships with China’s rapid growth.”

While the editorial addressed the territorial disputes with India and Japan, it blamed Australia for following the US, resulting in tensions between Beijing and Canberra.

A Global Times (GT) editorial, a daily tabloid newspaper under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party, said that Australia’s inclusion in the Malabar exercise is aimed at putting pressure on China.

The tabloid blamed the US for turning the Quad into the ‘Asian NATO’. “The three [India, Japan, and Australia] have seen a “threat” because they are unaccustomed to China’s rise, but have developed realistic relationships with China’s rapid growth.”

While the editorial addressed the territorial disputes with India and Japan, its blamed Australia for following the US that resulted in tensions between Beijing and Canberra.

Harsh Pant, a professor of international relations at London’s Kings College, told The South China Morning Post (SCMP) that India’s push towards Quad, especially with Australia’s invitation, is undoubtedly aimed at China.

“Each time the Quad is even mentioned, China goes ballistic,” Pant said. Amid rising Chinese assertiveness, such a reaction might be egging India on, he added. “If it rattles China’s cage, why not rattle it well? That is what India is trying,” he said.