Amid the ongoing stand-off with China in eastern Ladakh, the Ministry of Defence on Monday announced that Australia would join the Malabar 2020 naval exercise, consisting of India, Japan and the U.S., to be held next month, more than three years after Australia first requested to join.
“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,” the Ministry said in a statement.
The exercise is scheduled to be held end November and the planning conference to finalise the modalities of the exercise is scheduled to be held virtually end of October, according to an official source.
This will formally bring together the militaries of the four countries in the Quad group.
In Canberra, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that following an invitation from India, Australia would participate in Exercise Malabar 2020. “It will bolster the ability of India, Australia, Japan and the United States to work together to uphold peace and stability across our region,” she said.
Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said, “High-end military exercises like Malabar are key to enhancing Australia’s maritime capabilities, building interoperability with our close partners, and demonstrating our collective resolve to support an open and prosperous Indo-Pacific”. It showcased the “deep trust” between four major Indo-Pacific democracies and their “shared will” to work together on common security interests, she noted.
In 2018, the exercise was conducted off the coast of Guam in the Philippine Sea, off the coast the Japan in 2019 and was expected to be held in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea this year. This year, the exercise had been planned on a ‘non-contact - at sea’ format, the statement said.
The participants of Exercise Malabar 2020 were engaging to enhance safety and security in the maritime domain, the Ministry said. “They collectively support free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific and remain committed to a rules based international order.”
In August, a key meeting in the Defence Ministry discussed the issue of inviting Australia and an understanding was reached but no final decision was taken.
Quad meet in Tokyo
The issue of Australia’s inclusion in Malabar had come up for discussion at the Quad foreign ministers meet in Tokyo early this month.
As reported by The Hindu on June 3 , after years of reluctance due to Beijing’s sensitivities, India said it was open to Australia’s inclusion in Malabar, which began as a bilateral exercise between India and the U.S. in 1992 and was expanded into a trilateral format with the inclusion of Japan in 2015.
Canberra joined the exercise once in 2007 and it drew a sharp response from Beijing. In 2017, Australia requested for observer status in the exercise. While New Delhi was reluctant to accept Canberra’s request, the bilateral cooperation has gone up significantly since.
The exercise too has grown in scope and complexity over the years further boosted by India signing three of the four foundational agreements with the U.S. and increasing defence procurements from the U.S., enabling interoperability. Japan and the U.S. have been pressing India for Australia’s inclusion in Malabar.
With India and Japan signing a military logistics agreement in September, New Delhi now has such agreements with the other Quad nations. India had signed maritime information sharing agreements for Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) with Australia and Japan and a similar agreement is under discussion with the U.S.