Malabar Naval Exercise: India Snubs US, Japan to Strengthen India-China Relations

Soon after the India-China efforts to restore relations, the news of New Delhi denying Australian participation in the Malabar Naval Exercise surfaced. The Malabar Naval Exercise is an annual event that brings together the naval forces of US, Japan and India. Australia had shown great interest in participating in the Malabar Naval Exercise, even if as an observer, but was denied by India. Australia’s hope to be a part of the Naval Exercise were strengthened after the US-India-Japan-Australia Quad had been reinforced, late last year.

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So why did India deny Australian participation at the Malabar Naval Exercise? It seems that India is unsure of Australia’s strategic partnership commitment. This uncertainty arises from the fact that Australia took a step back when the Quad was being incarnated first in 2007.

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Although Australia did back out from the Quad in 2007, the situation today is very different. In the recent years, China’s aggressive efforts to take over the South China Sea and dominating other seas has completely changed the present day scenario. China is also assertively going forward with the BRI project, while the West is still coping with the global financial crisis, to further expand its economic and strategic power over the whole of Asia.

In response to China’s growing influence, Australia recognizes Beijing as the greatest threat and challenge to strategic relationships. The country has been responding assertively to China’s assertive measures and conducts regular patrols over sea and air.

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Last year, following the Doklam stand off, India too realized China’s assertiveness and this convinced Australia even further about the need to contain China’s influence. Although this does not make Australia-China enemies as there are many fields that could prosper through mutual ties. In fact, India too recognizes the need to accommodate to China for mutual growth and development.

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The timing of India denying Australia participation at the Malabar Naval Exercise came at the same time as the Modi-Xi India-China summit. This has led many observers to believe that the Australian participation denial at the Malabar Naval Exercise is India’s way of accommodating to China. While India may not have agreed to this, this is the general perception as India may not want to ‘upset’ China at this stage.

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Whatever the reason for the denial may be, this will definitely be a blow to the Quad. The real motive of the Quad is to build cooperation and come together for greater cooperation in the future. Including Australia in the Malabar Naval Exercise of 2018 would definitely be a great start for the Quad to align their militaries and work towards the actual goals in the future. Thus, this denial may actually weaken and harm the Quad, and even result in losing of its credibility. Whether this measure by India was aimed at pleasing China or snubbing Australia, the ripple effect of this may cause a further negative impact.