Australia to join Malabar exercise

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Australia will join the India-led Malabar 2020 naval exercise next month, operating along with the U.S. and Japan in an exercise meant to send a message to China, the US Naval Institute News reports.

The exercise will be a first for the so-called “Quad,” the Pacific cooperation between Japan, India, Australia and the U.S.

“As India seeks to increase cooperation with other countries in the maritime security domain and in the light of increased defense cooperation with Australia, Malabar 2020 will see the participation of the Australian Navy,” reads an Oct. 19 statement from the Indian government.

Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said in a statement that “high-end military exercises like Malabar are key to enhancing Australia’s maritime capabilities, building interoperability with our close partners, and demonstrating our collective resolve to support an open and prosperous Indo-Pacific.”

“Exercise Malabar also showcases the deep trust between four major Indo-Pacific democracies and their shared will to work together on common security interests,” she added.

India has hosted the Malabar series with the U.S. Navy since 1992, and in 2015 Japan joined as an annual participant.

Amid increasingly aggressive behavior from Chinese vessels – not just People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) warships but also from the Chinese coast guard, fishing fleet and commercial ships – throughout the Indo-Pacific region, there have been increasing calls for collaboration among higher-end navies.

Australia has become more active in conducting freedom of navigation operations meant to push back against China, including sailing alongside American warships in May near the site of a standoff between Chinese and Malaysian ships in the South China Sea. Japan and China continue to disagree over the Senkaku or Diaoyu islands, and India saw kinetic action with Chinese forces in multiple locations along their border in May and June.

In July The Hindu reported that India’s Ministry of Defence was mulling allowing Australia to participate, a decision that was complicated by ongoing tensions between India and China.

“Australia first requested for observer status in the trilateral exercise in April 2017. While New Delhi was reluctant to accept Canberra’s request, the bilateral cooperation has gone up significantly over the years. Last month, the two countries signed the long-pending Mutual Logistics Support (MLSA), elevated their partnership to Comprehensive Strategic partnership and also announced a joint declaration on a shared vision for maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific,” the outlet reported.

The U.S. and Japan have previously expressed support for Australia joining the event.

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