Bipartisan Senate letter backs India’s inclusion of Australia in Malabar naval exercise

October 21, 2020 09:29 pm | Updated 11:20 pm IST - Washington DC

Holding talks: Foreign Ministers of India, Australia, Japan and U.S. at the Quad meeting earlier this month. File

Holding talks: Foreign Ministers of India, Australia, Japan and U.S. at the Quad meeting earlier this month. File

A bipartisan group of Senators has written to India’s Ambassador to the United States Taranjit Singh Sandhu backing India’s decision to invite Australia to the annual Malabar naval exercise. The letter also asks India to join the Blue Dot Network — a U.S.-led collaboration with Australia and Japan that supports private-sector led infrastructure financing opportunities in response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The letter says strengthening the Quad — the group comprising India, the U.S., Australia and Japan — has become especially important in the face of China’s “rising military and economic assertiveness”.

Also read: Australia to join Malabar naval exercise next month

“We write in strong support of India’s decision to formally invite Australia to participate in the annual Exercise Malabar, which was made following the recent 2+2 ministerial meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue [the Quad] in Tokyo,” the Senators wrote.

India’s invitation to Australia to join this year’s exercise comes three years after Canberra had asked to join the programme.

The Senators’ letter called Australia a “uniquely capable and stalwart partner,” saying its addition to the Malabar exercise would provide increased interoperability, strengthen threat assessment abilities and enhance “the maritime roles and missions of the four naval powers”.

Also read: Quad should eventually become formalised, says top U.S. Official

“However, of equal importance is the symbolic nature of Australia’s inclusion in Malabar, marking the first time that the United States, India, Japan and Australia will engage collectively at the military level since the formation of the Quad and the Quad-plus-Singapore naval exercises held in September 2007,” the Senators wrote.

“In the face of China’s rising military and economic assertiveness, strengthening of the Quad has become increasingly important. As the world addresses the fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, China has opportunistically looked to expand its military footprint across the Indo-Pacific. From the South China Sea to the Himalayas, Beijing continues to use methods of intimidation and territorial aggression to test the resolve of regional actors,” the letter says.

The pandemic has exacerbated concerns about China’s BRI and debt-trap diplomacy as per the Senators’ letter, which calls for increased collaboration among Quad partners on infrastructure financing.

Also read: Quad | The confluence of four powers and two seas

“For instance, the Blue Dot Network (BDN), launched in 2019 by the U.S., Japan and Australia, is an initiative that will bring together governments, the private sector and civil society to certify projects that uphold global infrastructure principles. Given that three Quad partners are already involved in BDN, we encourage India’s participation in this promising initiative,” the Senators wrote.

Signatories of the letter include co–chairs of the Senate India Caucus John Cornyn (Republican, Texas) and Mark Warner (Democrat, Virgina). The list also includes — as one of the lead signatories — David Perdue of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Mr. Perdue was in the news recently for mocking Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris’s first name, which is of Indian (Sanskrit). Mr. Perdue faces re-election for his Senate seat in Georgia. Another signatory is right wing Senator from Georgia Kelly Loeffler, who has run a re-election campaign ad saying she is more conservative than Attila the Hun and has been endorsed by Georgia Congressional candidate Marjorie Taylor Green who is a supporter of QAnon — a group of right wing conspiracy theorists.

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