After much hesitation and debate, India finally invited Australia to join the Malabar naval exercise it conducts with the US and Japan. This is intended to send a strong signal to Beijing to stop bullying its neighbours and de-escalate the military crisis it has created in Ladakh.
In a decision that could be the first step towards militarising the Quad - the grouping of India, the US, Japan and Australia, the four large democracies in the Indo-Pacific region - New Delhi has invited Australia to join this year's Malabar naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea.
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Originally conceived as a bilateral exercise between India and the US, it came to include Japan as a permanent partner in 2015. Australia had last participated in the Malabar in 2007 but strong protests by Beijing, which labelled the exercise “anti-China”, had then stopped this quadrilateral exercise in its tracks.
However, the Indian Navy does conduct bilateral exercises with its Australian counterpart and so, the two forces are not unfamiliar with each other's tactics and procedures.
The military stand-off in Ladakh following the unprovoked aggression by China seems to have forced the Modi government to shed its past diffidence about upsetting China. The official statement issued by India made that quite clear.
An Indian government statement said the partners in the Malabar exercise “collectively support a free, open and inclusive Pacific and remain committed to a rules-based international order”.
In response, the Australian foreign and defence ministers jointly issued a statement saying the exercise “will bolster the ability of India, Australia, Japan and the United States to work together to uphold peace and stability across our region”.
Though neither statement mentions China but the language leaves no room for doubt - it is China that is unilaterally, and against every tenet of international law, claiming almost all of the South China Sea and disturbing the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific region with its military aggression against neighbours such as India, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia.