New Delhi

Maritime Muscle

India’s defence partnerships are central to its efforts to
counter China. Inviting Australia to the Malabar Naval
Exercises would significantly strengthen its military quotient.

By Raja Rafi Ullah | September 2020

Is Australia on the verge of joining the Malabar Naval Exercises in the Indian Ocean on India’s invitation? The trilateral war exercises involving the navies of India, the United States and Japan have been held since 1992 in the Indo-Pacific region, with Japan officially joining in 2015. Before that, Japanese involvement had been limited to only those years when the exercises were held in the Pacific instead of the Indian Ocean, While informal strategic cooperation among India, the US, Japan and Australia has existed in the form of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) since 2007, Australian involvement in the Malabar exercises would be only the second time when Canberra has been involved in any war exercises. The first Australian involvement in 2007 off the coast of Okinawa received a push-back from China and led to the collapse of any formal QUAD Alliance.

Since then, New Delhi has been traditionally hesitant about involving the Australian Navy in the Malabar exercises. It fears that such a move could look as overtly confrontational to the Chinese who have gradually increased their influence in the Indian Ocean to complement their regional hegemony in the neighbouring waters of the Pacific.

With increasingly deteriorating Sino-Indian relations which led to the recent border disputes and the growing tensions of late, it seems that New Delhi is trying to move towards consolidating both its diplomatic and military alliances under the banner of QUAD, involving the US, Japan and Australia. After years of posturing, New Delhi’s reported openness to Australia’s participation in India’s annual naval exercises around Malabar with the US and Japan, hopefully marks the end of its incredibly slow adaptation to a rapidly changing maritime environment in the Indo-Pacific littoral.

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The writer is a research fellow at PIDE, Islamabad and a Cornell University alumnus. He can be reached at

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