NEW DELHI: In a major strategic shift Australia shunned its reservations from being seen as part of the ‘Quad” countries and has decided on Monday to send the warships of the Royal Australian Navy to participate in the Malabar series of naval exercises.
Ministry of Defence (MoD) in its statement said, “As India seeks to increase cooperation with other countries in the maritime security domain and in the light of increased defence cooperation with Australia, Malabar 2020 will see the participation of the Australian Navy.”
Interestingly this will be the second such participation of Australian Navy in Malabar series of exercise. Australia had participated in 2007 along with the other quad members and had withdrawn since then after China raised its concern against this construct calling it an anti-China alliance.
This exercise will be significant as the four countries forming a construct will be participating after 12 years. It was first mooted in 2007 and China has always raised concern against this alliance of the US, Japan, Australia and India.
This year it will be the 24th edition and the exercise has been planned on a ‘non-contact - at sea’ format. The exercise will strengthen the coordination between the Navies of the participating countries.
All bilateral exercise have harbor phase involving personnel interaction. In this case it will be an exercise at sea with the personnel on their own ships having no personnel interaction.
The participants of Exercise Malabar 2020 are engaging to enhance safety and security in the maritime domain. They collectively support free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific and remain committed to a rules based international order.
The Malabar series of Naval exercises started in 1992 as a bilateral Indian Navy-US Navy exercise. Japan joined the Naval exercise in 2015. This annual exercise has been conducted off the coast of Guam in the Philippine Sea in 2018, off the coast the Japan in 2019 and is expected to be held in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea later this year.
Calling it a welcome move Commodore Anil Jai Singh, Defence Analyst sees the participation of Australia in the exercise important message to China to show India’s concern. “China has opened so many fronts simultaneously and India has been always considerate towards the Chinese sensitivities for which China never cared.” said Commodore Singh. It will be an informal construct, he added.
China has opened several fronts simultaneously. While china tried to unilaterally change the status quo at the Line of Actual Control in Eastern Ladakh China, it has instituted bans and increased trade barriers against Australia in retaliation to the Australian demand for an inquiry into the origins of COVID19. With Japan, China is involved in territorial dispute into the East China Sea. There is a continuous confrontation at various levels including the trade war.
Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha (Retd), Strategic Analyst says, “Australia is significant given the time of of geopolitical turmoil, it completes some kind of security architecture which might be available which can be put to use by quad for ensuring freedom of navigation and following the international order on maritime issues”.