NEW DELHI: The ‘Quad’ is back after a gap of 13 years, with an expansionist China firmly in its cross-hairs. Another ‘like-minded’ country, Germany, has also declared it will deploy a warship to patrol the Indo-Pacific to safeguard the `international rules-based order’ in the critical region from next year onwards.
Warships from the Quad nations, India, the US, Japan and Australia, on Tuesday kicked off the four-day Phase-I of the 24 thMalabar naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal, with the focus being on complex anti-submarine warfare and other combat manoeuvres on the high seas.
Phase-II of the wargames in the Arabian Sea from November 17 to 20 will be “more power-packed”, with the US likely to also deploy a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. India, too, may field its solitary carrier, INS Vikramaditya with its MiG-29K fighters, apart from warships, submarines and P-8I long-range patrol aircraft already taking part in Phase-I.
“The strategic show of intent to China is unambiguous,” said a senior Indian official. The high-voltage exercise comes amidst India’s ongoing military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh, which has entered its seventh month now.
The new entrant, Australia, last participated in the Malabar in 2007, which had been slammed by China as a move by “an axis of democracies” designed to “counter and contain” it in Indo-Pacific.
Australia promptly backtracked. India also then restricted the Malabar to a bilateral exercise with the US for several years till Japan became a regular participant from 2015 onwards.
Thirteen years later, China now has the world’s largest Navy, surpassing even the US in the number of warships if not technology, and has begun to aggressively flex its muscles from the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
The “Quad” countries, as many others like Germany and the UK, are obviously troubled with China’s strong-arm tactics in the region. India, for instance, on Monday reiterated that Malabar will “showcase the high-levels of synergy and coordination between the friendly navies, which is based on their shared values and commitment to an open, inclusive Indo-Pacific and a rules-based international order”.
On Tuesday, Australian defence minister Linda Reynolds said the imperative to cooperate closely with regional defence partners on shared challenges was stronger than ever before.
“Participation in sophisticated exercises like Malabar not only highlights the strategic trust among the members, but also strengthens our collective ability to contribute to regional security,” she added.
China, in a terse reaction to Malabar, hoped “the actions by the relevant countries will be conducive to regional peace and stability, rather than the opposite”.
India, of course, has also inked reciprocal military logistics pacts with the US, Australia and Japan since 2016, which will help the three nations sustain their warships and aircraft in the IOR.
For Phase-I of the Malabar, India has deployed destroyer INS Ranvijay, stealth frigate INS Shivalik, offshore patrol vessel INS Sukanya, fleet support ship INS Shakti and submarine INS Sindhuraj.
The US, Australia and Japan, in turn, have fielded guided-missile destroyer USS John S McCain, long-range frigate HMAS Ballarat and destroyer JS Onami, respectively.
“Malabar-2020 will witness complex and advanced naval exercises including surface, anti-submarine and anti-air warfare operations, cross-deck flying, seamanship evolutions and weapon firing exercises,” said an officer.