The Centre on Monday announced that Australia will join the high-level Malabar naval exercises. The annual drill, which India, Japan and the United States participated in, will now include the complete “quad” or quadrilateral coalition. The announcement came amid India’s border tensions with China.

The exercise is scheduled to take place in November. “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 of Defence said in a statement.

The government added: “This year, the exercise has been planned on a ‘non-contact - at sea’ format. The exercise will strengthen the coordination between the Navies of the participating countries. The participants of Exercise Malabar 2020 are engaging to enhance safety and security in the maritime domain.”

The Centre said that “Quad” countries supported a “free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific” and remained committed to a rules-based international order.

Earlier this month, the Second Quad Ministerial Meeting was held in in Tokyo. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said that the alliance could be a “fabric” to counter Chinese threat. “Once we’ve institutionalised what we’re doing – the four of us together – we can begin to build out a true security framework,” Pompeo had told Nikkei Asia.

The Ministry of Defence had held a key meeting in August to discuss Australia’s participation in the exercise but no final decision had been made, according to The Hindu.

India had said in June that it was open to Australia’s inclusion in Malabar. Australia took part in the exercise in 2007, but it drew a stern response from China, according to the newspaper.

The Malabar exercises began in 1992 as a bilateral drill between India and the US. Japan joined the exercise in 2015. The annual exercise was held off the coast of Guam in the Philippine Sea in 2018 and off the coast the Japan in 2019. This year, it will be held in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal

The India-China standoff

Military heads of the two countries have engaged in several rounds of talks over the last three months after 20 Indian and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers were killed in violent clashes in Galwan Valley in Ladakh on June 15. However, these talks have failed to break the impasse.

On Wednesday, Beijing said it does not recognise Indian sovereignty over Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh, claiming that India had illegally occupied Ladakh. In response, India’s Ministry of External Affairs said that China has no locus standi to comment on the matter. The ministry said Ladakh as well as Arunachal Pradesh are integral parts of India and this has been conveyed to the Chinese side on many occasions.

After the sixth round of military talks on September 22, India and China had resolved to stop sending more troops to the frontline amid the border standoff. Both countries also agreed to take practical measures to properly solve problems on the ground and ensure peace in the border areas.

On September 10, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar met his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Moscow on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit. The two ministers agreed on a five-point plan to defuse tensions between the countries and said the current situation in the border areas of Ladakh was “not in the interest of either side”. They agreed, therefore, that the border troops of both sides should “continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions”.

Also read:

  1. India-China tension: Border clash ‘profoundly disturbed’ bilateral ties, says S Jaishankar
  2. India, China agree not to turn differences into disputes amid border standoff
  3. Pakistan and China creating border tensions ‘under a mission,’ says Rajnath Singh
  4. Ladakh standoff: ‘Time to accept talks with China won’t help,’ says US national security adviser