Beijing rebuff: Australia to take part in four-nation Exercise Malabar - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 20 October 2020

Beijing rebuff: Australia to take part in four-nation Exercise Malabar

Warships sail together in a previous edition of joint exercise Malabar


By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 20 Oct 20


In a rebuff to Beijing, albeit one that was on the cards as Chinese assertiveness grows, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced on Monday that Australia will participate in the naval “Exercise Malabar”, which is scheduled for 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,” stated the MoD.


In a simultaneous announcement from Canberra, Australia’s MoD stated: “Following an invitation from India, Australia will participate in Exercise Malabar 2020. The exercise will bring together four key regional defence partners: India, the US, Japan and Australia.


The high-profile naval exercise was hosted by the US in 2018, off Guam in the Philippine Sea; and by Japan in 2019 off its own coast. “[Malabar 2020] is expected to be held in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea later this year,” stated the MoD.


Malabar usually sees a great deal of cross-attachment, with each navy hosting on board their warships personnel from other participating navies. The Covid-19 pandemic, however, will not allow that in Malabar 2020. “This year, the exercise has been planned on a ‘non-contact at sea’ format,” announced the MoD.


The Malabar series of joint naval exercises began in 1992 as a bilateral training and familiarization initiative between the US and Indian navies. In 2015, Japan was invited to join, making Malabar a trilateral exercise.


Australia has expressed keenness to join Malabar for some years. In 2017, it was invited to attend Malabar in an “observer” capacity. This year, given Australia’s full participation, Malabar 2020 will feature all four members of the Quadrilateral (Quad) grouping.


This is unlikely to be welcomed in Beijing. China has always opposed Malabar’s expansion, and the link between Malabar and the Quad. The latter, while not a military grouping, has been often pitched as a “Concert of Democracies” counterpoised to authoritarian China.


China’s opposition to Malabar was evident in 2007, when all four Quad members, as well as Singapore, sent naval units to that year’s Exercise Malabar – so far, the highest number of participants. An irate Beijing sent a diplomatic demarche to all four Quad capitals, enquiring whom their navies were training to fight against. 


The next year, Malabar 2008 became a victim of domestic politics when Australia elected Kevin Rudd as prime minister. The China-friendly leader promptly ended further quadrilateral engagement.


In seeking to rejoin Malabar and thereby create a defence hedge against a rising China, Australia has struggled with Rudd’s legacy: the belief in capitals like New Delhi that Canberra is fickle in dealing with China.


Nor are Indian policymakers unanimous about expanding Malabar to include all four Quad members. India is the only Quad member that does not have a defence treaty with the US. If China retaliates militarily, New Delhi may end up alone.


Furthermore, India is the only one that has a land boundary with China, and a hotly contested one at that. While an expanded Malabar could help share India’s maritime security burden, the land boundary would remain New Delhi’s problem.


Indian officials, such as PS Raghavan, who heads the National Security Advisory Board, regard the Quad as “the most high-profile plurilateral dialogue” that India participates in. The Quad engagement was recently upgraded from the level of officials to that of ministers. 


“It is important to recognize what the Quad is and what it is not. The Quad is not a strategy; it is a search for a strategy, based on some shared interests. It is not a closed club or a starting point of an arc of democracy encircling China. Even less is it an alliance. The broad objectives of its participants are political equilibrium and a sustainable security architecture,” wrote Raghavan last November.


  1. India is alone since Independence due to its so called socialist and non aligned agenda.Quad or no quad India has to fight its wars with Pakistan and China alone.All parties have failed in putting India at the top economically and militarily.

  2. "Sailor shortage strands Australian warship HMAS Perth in dry dock for two years" .. ... One of the [australian] Navy's recently upgraded Anzac class frigates has been stuck in dry dock since 2017, because the ADF [australian defence forces] is struggling to find enough sailors to put the warship to sea.....the ASPI [australian strategic policy institute] study also found the ADF had failed to achieve "modest" personnel recruitment goals laid out in the most recent defence white paper, published in 2016."Overall, it's only increased by 600 actual people against a target of around 1,730 over the period since the white paper," the report concluded...."HMAS Perth, one of Navy's frigates, had gone through a very extensive refit and upgrade, got new radar capabilities, so a lot of investment went into that, but at the end of that process Navy couldn't find a crew for it,"

    With few takers for Army, Officers' Training Academy at Gaya to be shut down .. ....
    Army proposal to disband Officers Training Academy in Gaya gets defence ministry nod ... ... After the Kargil conflict, it was anticipated that there would be an increased demand for Army jobs and, hence, the requirement for more infrastructure for training personnel, the officer quoted above said. “This clearly did not happen. The number of people who could qualify as officers to join the Army was much less than anticipated,” the officer said. Even OTA Chennai has just been able to fill 50 per cent of its seats as “Short Service Commission did not come across as an attractive option for people willing to join the Army”, the officer said. “Even IMA Dehradun is training about 300 cadets less than its strength,” the officer said, adding that the Uttarakhand academy has a capacity of 1,650.

    interesting that both australia and india are singing from the same hymn sheet in more ways than one.

    1. I don't know whether there is shortage of sailors in Australia but in India more than enough apply for armed forces but some how they do not take sufficient candidates, today only out of 270 candidates not a single one was considered fit enough to join army in technical entry this has happened in one of the ssb centres today

  3. “ China has always opposed Malabar’s expansion, and the link between Malabar and the Quad. The latter, while not a military grouping, has been often pitched as a “Concert of Democracies” counterpoised to authoritarian China.‘


  4. What exactly are India’s maritime security concerns?
    Not many Indian ships go through the straits.
    No vital oil supply route to India is through that area.
    Our little Islands are not under external threat, neither do we have to worry about Chinese armies landing on our beaches.
    This deployment of our ships is an offensive act, but in reality offers only mere posturing, as in case of an all out conflict our ships in the Far East would be obliterated, by long range rocket attacks from the Chinese mainland.
    I cannot imagine when we would need the quad navy in the Bay of Bengal, surely not against Bangladesh
    But to interdict Chinese shipping, for that `india will face the consequences of a full scale land attack from the north.
    For India this is about Pride and prestige it’s all about, smart white uniforms...etc
    Strategic value for the USA yes!
    Strategic value for India Zilch!

  5. Working to blunt the Quad is the ultimate strategic game for China. Every step India takes to move towards a military alliance against China will be matched with a Chinese step calibrated towards making India more insecure through strengthening its alliance with Pakistan. Based on lack of Chinese action during Balakot last year and lack of Pakistan action since the beginning of Galwan, there is not yet a two front alliance against India. But that will change step by step in response to Indian moves (e.g. reports now China is helping Pakistan to install surface to air missiles).

  6. I never understand why Australia wants to be an enemy of China, a country of a population of nearly 26 millions against a country of 1.4 billions. It is really mind boggling. Australia needs to look at itself through a mirror and to realize its place in the world. No wonder China doesn’t take it seriously when it comes with Australia.

  7. India should consider itself lucky; the only reason there is no war between China and India is that China doesn’t want war with India. A perfect example is the encounter between a lion and a calf; the only reason the calf is not being eaten is that the lion simply is not interested in eating the calf for whatever reason, and this doesn’t come too often. India needs to appreciate and cherish the moment with a sigh of relief.

  8. Australia is a funny nation with a population about the size of North Korea. Instead playing a follower(yes man) role as it should, it always tries to rear its ugly head as a tough guy, but it has neither the military might nor the nuclear arms to defend itself from its adversaries, which is why it is always in bed with US. In the short term, it may be winning, but in the long run, it doesn’t look good for Australia, as US is a declining power. Australia needs to realize it is only one of many concubines of US; it can be easily discarded when deemed useless; In fact, when comparing military might between North Korea and Australia, North Korea is a much more powerful nation.

  9. You have written more articles in the last month or so than the 10 years of UPA when it was a paid vacation for you....keep writing Ajai


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