NEW DELHI: Australian Envoy to India Harinder Sidhu on Tuesday made it official that the country is interesting in rejoining the multi-lateral maritime naval drill Malabar – quadrilateral naval exercise comprising of India, the US, Japan and Australia - which it had earlier pulled out from due to the apprehension of upsetting China.
Ambassador Sidhu also said that the bi-lateral naval exercise decided during the Prime Ministerial-level talks last month, would be held later this year.
“We see it as natural extension of the deep defence relations between the two countries. We have expressed our interest. But it is still a matter in conversation, nothing concrete. It is a multi-lateral exercise to the decision has to be taken by other countries as well,” Sidhu told reporters here.
The Obama dispensation has been particular about bringing the “maritime democracies” in the Asia-Pacific region to come together to counter-balance an assertive China. Australia had participated in the four-nation military drills in 2007, however, the former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd reportedly backed out of the exercises in 2008 due to the Chinese pressure. In 2007, Beijing had issued a demarche to all the participating countries, seeking to know against whom the exercises were aimed at it has been seeing it as a ‘front’ to contain it.
Acknowledging that China’s enormous economic growth has given it a huge clout, the Australian Ambassador said that the rise needs to happen responsibly. “What we see is China has lot of economic weight. It has improved economies of lot of other countries. From Australian and Indian perspective we want it to happen responsibly and according to international goals,” Sidhu added.
Responding to a question about increasing Chinese domination in the South China Sea, the Australian Ambassador said: “Australia and India share is open sea lanes and protection of sea trade. All parties need to abide by rules. We don't want new rules to be written. Rules are already there.”