China on Tuesday said it has “taken note” of India’s announcement that Australia will join the Malabar naval exercises and stressed that Beijing believes military cooperation should be “conducive” to regional peace and stability, PTI reported. India’s announcement had come amid the country’s border tensions with China.

The United States and Japan – the remaining members of the “quad” apart from India and Australia – will also participate in the annual high-level Malabar naval exercises. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said in the Second Quad Ministerial Meeting that the alliance could be a “fabric” to counter the Chinese threat.

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.

Former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal told Mint that he believes the delay in having Australia join the exercise was because India thought it was best to avoid complicating the ongoing talks on border tensions with China. He added that the announcement meant that India thinks the talks were not as productive as anticipated.

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 of Japan in 2019. This year, it will be held in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal in November.

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”.