Australia will almost certainly join important naval exercises with India, the United States and Japan when the four democracies tighten military cooperation to look at emerging China.
- Canberra works to deepen Australia’s relations with India and Japan
- Japan and the US are very enthusiastic about Australia joining this exercise
- China’s firmness is pushing countries closer, said a former Indian navy spokesman
The Australian Government has been urging to join Malabar naval exercises for more than five years, but has been repeatedly blocked by India.
But now, some Indian newspapers report that the Modi Government has changed its mind and will allow Australia to participate.
The Australian government also believes India has changed its position, with a senior source saying there are “very positive signs” an invitation will be formally issued soon.
Since 2017, Australia, India, Japan and the US have increased cooperation through the “Quad” security dialogue, but expanding Malabar to include the four countries would give the group a sharper military edge.
It will also represent a substantial diplomatic and strategic victory for Australia.
Japan and the US are very enthusiastic about Australia joining this exercise.
But New Delhi has long hidden doubts about Australia’s commitment to defense cooperation, especially after the Rudd government withdrew from the first Quad iteration back in 2008.
India is also cautious in antagonizing China, which criticizes Quad and accuses Washington of organizing a campaign to arrest him.
Australian officials insist that Quad is not intended to curb the rise of China, but rather to establish “patterns of cooperation” and “norms of behavior” in the region.
But a New Delhi-based defense analyst, Abhijnan Rej, said that Malabar that was inevitable with Australia included would be seen as an attempt to hold China back.
“India will never use the word C,” Mr Rej said.
“It will not be called a part of the Quad. But no one will be fooled, let alone Beijing.”
‘A minded navy, a minded democracy’
The decision came at a critical time for Australia.
Government – mired in a series of fierce conflicts with China, and increasingly worried about the US’s commitment to Asia – working to deepen Australia’s relations with India and Japan.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has held Virtual meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in recent weeks.
India and Australia have also increased bilateral relations, signed comprehensive strategic partnerships and agreements to allow mutual access to military bases.
The former Indian Navy spokesman, Retired Captain DK Sharma, told ABC that including Australia in Malabar would create a coalition of “like-minded navies, like-minded democracies” throughout the Indo-Pacific.
He said China’s assertiveness of individual countries, such as India and Australia, had pushed countries closer.
“[China] “I never expected that such an alliance could be sewn together,” said Captain Sharma.
“But they have put it in our throat … That’s what makes them confused.”
Most observers hope that Australia will initially only be invited to join Malabar as an observer, before increasing its participation and sending naval vessels in the coming years.
The corona virus pandemic might also push back the next Malabar exercise until 2021, delaying Australian participation.
India has the third highest military expenditure in the world and is a dominant force in parts of the Indian Ocean, but its ability to influence events in the Pacific is limited, according to analyst Mr Rej.
A series of growing border disputes in the Himalayas has also hardened views of China in New Delhi.
Last month, a a fight broke out between troops at the border post in the Galwan Valleykilling 20 Indian soldiers. Beijing did not reveal how many casualties it had borne.
Jeff Smith of the Heritage Foundation said India always “prefers to remain out of tune” but “the constant threat from China almost forces its hand”.
“India has forged a type of strategic bond with the US to the point where they have several interoperability agreements, a shared vision for the Indo-Pacific, increased numbers of arms sales, very high volumes and the sophistication of military training,” he said. .
Ian Hall of the Griffith Asia Institute said India’s anxiety about China’s behavior “has increased in the last decade”.
“New Delhi is also worried about the Chinese Navy operating in the Indian Ocean,” Professor Hall said.
“This has led to discussions about closer cooperation with regional partners, including Australia, to safeguard freedom of navigation, protect sea lanes, and if necessary, in crisis, limit the ability of PLA navies to operate freely in the region.”
An Australian Department of Defense spokesman said Australia had not yet received an invitation to Malabar, but stressed the benefits of the exercise.