India has turned down Australia’s request to be part of multilateral naval exercises in July allegedly over concerns that it could worsen New Delhi’s strained ties with Beijing, Reuters reported. China had warned India against expanding its war game drills in the region, officials told the news agency.
Australia had reportedly written to the Defence Ministry in January, asking to be included as an observer in the July war games. But its request has been rejected. Since 1992, India and the United States and, more recently, Japan have been conducting defence drills in the north of Australia under the programme called Exercise Malabar.
Officials told Reuters that Canberra could send officers to observe the exercises from the decks of the three participating countries’ warships.
Australia’s Opposition Defence spokesperson Richard Marles said India’s refusal was disappointing, but added that bilateral negotiations will continue. “I do not for a moment think that this represents a huge issue in the context of the relationship between ourselves and India,” Marles said. “I think it is really important that the government continues to work with India to try and do more cooperation and that may well involve more defence exercises.”
In 2007, Australia had joined the exercise but withdrew participation after Beijing expressed concerns. “Australia has regularly discussed the matter of the Royal Australian Navy’s involvement in Exercise Malabar with India since 2015,” an Australian defence spokesperson told the ABC News. “Australia has not been invited to join Exercise Malabar 2017.”
Meanwhile, Australia and India will conduct the second bilateral naval war games called Exercise AUSINDEX in June, ABC News reported. The Australian defence department said the two countries were “building on the positive momentum in our defence relationship to deepen engagement and to increase the consistency and complexity of our existing activities”.