India to take call on Australia’s inclusion in Malabar exercises

A file photo of the trilateral Malabar exercise.T.K. RohitT_K_ROHIT  

India will take a decision on whether to include Australia in the Malabar exercises with Japan and the U.S. at a Defence Ministry meeting early next week, according to a defence source. The decision, if taken, could bring all Quad countries together as part of the annual war games.

“The general consensus is that Australia should join. A discussion is going to happen in the Defence Ministry on this issue next week,” the defence source said on condition of anonymity.

LAC stand-off

As reported by The Hindu on June 3, after years of reluctance, India said it was open to Australia’s inclusion in the Malabar as an observer. The move comes in the midst of the ongoing stand-off with China on the border, the biggest crisis along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in over five decades. Australia’s inclusion would be seen as a possible first step towards the militarisation of the Quad coalition, something Beijing has opposed in the past.

Once the government takes a decision to include Australia, as per procedure, the other partner nations — Japan and the U.S. — have to be informed to secure their consent, after which a formal invitation would be extended to Australia. Japan and the U.S. have been keen on Canberra’s inclusion for and have been pushing India to consider it.

The Malabar exercise, which has been delayed this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, should take place towards the end of 2020, the source said. The inclusion of Australia in the exercises would mark a major shift for India’s Indo-Pacific plans.

Started in 1992

Malabar began as a bilateral naval exercise between India and the U.S. in 1992, and was expanded into a trilateral format with the inclusion of Japan in 2015.

In April 2017, The Hindu was the first to report of Australia’s request for observer status in the trilateral exercise. Since then, Australia has made repeated requests to join the exercises and in January 2018, former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had said talks on the Malabar exercises were “progressing well”. However, India did not include Australia in the exercises in 2018 and 2019.