NEW DELHI/SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia will join three-way naval exercises involving the United States, Japan and India, the countries announced on Monday, in a move that could raise concerns in China, which has criticised similar joint drills as destabilising.
India, which holds the annual drills called Malabar with the U.S. and Japanese navies each year, agreed to invite Australia for next month’s exercise in the Bay of Bengal, it said, in a sign of cooperation between the “Quad” countries.
“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,” the defence ministry said in a statement.
Australia will be returning to the joint manoeuvres after its participation in 2007, which drew criticism from China at the time.
Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said the Malabar drills were a milestone opportunity for the Australian Defence Force, and that they showcased “the deep trust between four major Indo-Pacific democracies and their shared will to work together on common security interests.”
There was no immediate word from China on the Malabar exercises.
The United States has been pushing for a deeper collaboration with Japan, India and Australia as a bulwark against China’s growing regional influence.
These four have formed the Quad, a loose strategic coalition of the four leading democracies in the region. The joint drills will be the first concrete action of the grouping, analysts say.
China has denounced the Quad as an attempt to contain its development.
India’s decision on expanding the exercises comes at a time when it is locked in a military stand-off on the disputed land border with China.
Thousands of troops are in close proximity in the western Himalayas, where India says Chinese troops have intruded deep across its side of the de facto border.
Beijing denies any intrusion and says India has been building roads and other infrastructure in the disputed area causing the crisis.
Australia’s diplomatic relations with China also worsened this year, after Canberra led calls for an international inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic and Beijing imposed trade sanctions on Australian beef and barley.
Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky
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