What is Malabar military drill and why it concerns China | India News

What is Malabar military drill and why it concerns China | India News

NEW DELHI: Australia will take part in a large-scale military drill – Malabar exercise- off the coast of India next month that will bring together a quartet of countries concerned by rising Chinese influence.
It is for the first time that all the ‘Quad‘ countries – an informal security forum comprising India, the US, Japan and Australia – will be part of Malabar, a move that will likely spark Chinese protest.
Here is all you need to know:
What is the Malabal drill?
The Malabar naval exercise began in 1992 as a training event between the United States and India. Japan joined it in 2015, but Australia has not participated since 2007.
The exercise was conducted off the coast of Guam in the Philippine Sea in 2018 and off the coast of Japan in 2019.
This year’s drills are likely to be held in the Bay of Bengal and the Gulf, defence ministry has said. Dates have not yet been confirmed yet.
Significance of the exercise
It will be the first time that the United States, India, Japan and Australia – the informal grouping known as the Quad – have participated in a joint military exercise of this size.
The decision to include Australia in the drills — the first time all members of the regional grouping known as the Quad will be engaged at a military level — comes as Beijing and New Delhi are caught up in their worst border tensions in four decades.
“The timing of India potentially letting Australia into Malabar would be especially significant at this juncture,” said Derek Grossman, researcher at the Washington-based RAND Corporation who worked in the US intelligence community for more than a decade.
“It would send a significant message to China that the Quad — US, Australia, Japan, and India — are de facto conducting joint naval exercises, even if not technically conducted under the auspices of a Quad event,” he added.
The so-called “quad” has been touted as a means of countering Chinese influence — including an enormous decades-long investment in modernising the People’s Liberation Army-Navy.
But the grouping has often faltered amid disagreements about how much to confront, contain or engage Beijing.
A renewed push to develop the “quad” into a formal counterbalance to China has included talks between foreign ministers in Tokyo earlier this month.
With Washington indicating its willingness to back the region through an increased force deployment in Asia, the Malabar exercises may take on more importance.
However, China has denounced the Quad as an attempt to contain its development.
China takes note
China on Tuesday said it has “taken note” of India’s announcement that Australia will join the annual Malabar naval exercises along with the US and Japan, underlining that military cooperation should be “conducive” to regional peace and stability.
Commenting on the announcement, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a media briefing here that China has “taken note of this development.”
“We always believe that military cooperation between countries should be conducive to regional peace and stability,” he said in a brief reaction.
Resentment about the drill
China has been uncomfortable with the informal coalition of four democracies, which was first formed in 2004.
China had strongly objected to the India-US Malabar exercise in the Bay of Bengal in 2007 when it was expanded to include Japan, Australia and Singapore as well, firm in its belief that a multilateral naval construct was emerging to “counter and contain” it in the region.
China had objected to Japan’s inclusion in the US-India annual Malabar event in 2015 also with the then foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei warning “relevant countries” to not “provoke confrontation and create tension” in the region.
This had led India to restrict Malabar to a bilateral one with the US for several years – Japan was included only when the exercise was held in the north-western Pacific in 2009 and 2014 – before finally agreeing to make Japan a regular participant from 2015 onwards.
With Australia’s inclusion, it will be a breakaway from the self-imposed restraint. India, of course, is bilaterally expanding its military ties with Australia.
Beijing’s claim on South China Sea
Beijing claims almost all of the 1.3 million square-mile South China Sea as its sovereign territory. China has been building military bases on artificial islands in the region which, in parts, is claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Beijing has impeded commercial activity like fishing and mineral exploration by neighbouring nations in recent years, saying the ownership of the resource-rich maritime territory belongs to China for hundreds of years.
Australia joining the drill
India’s inclusion of Australia this year follows a defense agreement and upgrading ties to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. The Mutual Logistics support agreement announced in May by Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Scott Morrison allows access to each other’s bases and ports.
India has a similar agreement with the US.
In a joint statement with Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the announcement was another important step in Australia’s deepening relationship with India.
Australia’s diplomatic relations with China also worsened this year, after Canberra led calls for an international inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic and Beijing imposed trade sanctions on Australian beef and barley.
Australia last participated in Malabar exercise in 2007.
What ships will participate in the drill?
India, which last year sent two smaller warships, was likely to send a larger carrier this time as smaller distances are involved.
The United States already has the supercarriers Nimitz in the Gulf and Ronald Reagan in the Bay of Bengal, both possible participants in the drill.
Japan’s navy is likely to send one of its two ‘Izumo-class’ helicopter carriers, Sharma said, the largest in its fleet and which have been part of the exercise for several years.
Australia could send one of its newest ships, such as the destroyer Hobart, he added.
(With inputs from agencies)

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