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In a major move coming after years of deliberation, Delhi has invited Australia to participate in this year’s Malabar naval exercises.
- The decision marks an important inflexion point not only in India’s bilateral relations with Australia but also in the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific.
- The new strategic geography stretching from the east coast of Africa to the waters of East Asia.
- The naval exercise, which is scheduled to take place next month in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, imparts(gives) a military dimension to the so-called Quadrilateral Dialogue Framework.
- Quad framework involves India, US, Japan and Australia.
- Despite the eagerness of Australia to join Malabar, Delhi held back and limited it to India, US and Japan.
- The main reason behind Delhi’s hesitation was the concern that including Australia into the Quad might offend China’s rather fragile(weak) political sensitivity.
- Something, then, has clearly changed India’s calculus on China.
- China’s muscular unilateralism rises and undermines India’s core interests across a broad range of issues — from territorial integrity to regional and multilateral interests.
- Delhi has had no option but to reconsider its strategic deference to Beijing.
- China’s Ladakh aggression this spring was possibly the last straw(tipping point).
- The reluctance to turn the Quad into a military coalition, Delhi could not but note, produced no Chinese consideration for India’s concerns. The die is now cast(something being finalized).
- The last time Australian naval ships joined Malabar was back in 2007, when it was a five-nation exercise involving India, US, Japan, Singapore and Australia.
- Until 2007, Malabar was an annual bilateral exercise with the US Navy that was launched in 1992.
- The Indian Navy’s decision to convene the five-nation exercise was probably more administrative than geopolitical.
- Rather than have separate exercises with each of these partners, it was considered sensible to combine them into one.
- But the multilateral exercise in the Bay of Bengal produced vehement(strong) protests from China, which dubbed it as an “Asian NATO”. The external Chinese opposition found an internal political echo.
- The CPI(M) and the Left parties, which formed a sizeable part of the UPA coalition, demanded an end to the exercise. A flustered(confused) UPA government ordered an end to multilateral Malabar.
- This policy endured(continued) until 2015, when the NDA government invited Japan to join the annual Malabar exercises.
- It has now taken the next step towards quadrilateral military engagement.
- The decision to welcome Australia into Malabar has come in the middle of the continuing confrontation with China in Ladakh.
- The naval exercise is not about changing the military equation in the Himalayan theatre.
- Delhi has no interest in bringing its Quad partners into India’s territorial battles against Beijing.
- It is about expanding India’s bilateral security ties with Australia, whose potential is immense.
- The military Quad is, above all, an important part of building a sustainable Indo-Pacific coalition that is capable of addressing the massive strategic imbalance generated by the rise of an aggressive Chinese party-state.
- Australia’s return shows Delhi is reconsidering deference to Beijing’s interests, giving primacy to its own.