A key meeting of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on Friday discussed the issue of inviting Australia for the trilateral Malabar naval exercise with Japan and the United States. However, a final decision has not been taken yet, two defence sources said.
“The issue was discussed and an understanding has been reached but no final decision has been taken yet,” a defence source told The Hindu on condition of anonymity. There is increasing consensus at the official level that Australia should join the naval war games.
The final decision has been delayed in view of the ongoing stand-off with China on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), it has been learnt. The final decision is likely before the exercise that could take place end of this year. It has been delayed this year due to COVID-19. The decision, if taken, will bring all Quad countries together as part of the annual war games and also mark a major shift for India’s Indo-Pacific plans.
As reported by The Hindu on June 03, 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.
The exercise has also grown in scope and complexity over the years further boosted by India signing three of the four foundational agreements with the US and increasing defence procurements from the U.S. increasing interoperability. Japan and the U.S. have been pressing India for Australia’s inclusion in Malabar.
Australia first requested for observer status in the trilateral exercise in April 2017. While New Delhi was reluctant to accept Canberra’s request, the bilateral cooperation has gone up significantly over the years. Last month, the two countries signed the long-pending Mutual Logistics Support (MLSA), elevated their partnership to Comprehensive Strategic partnership and also announced a joint declaration on a shared vision for maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.