NEW DELHI: Cocking a snook at China, India will now include Japan for its forthcoming Malabar naval exercise with the US in the Bay of Bengal in October. But India will host a separate bilateral naval exercise with Australia, which too was keen on joining Malabar, in September.
The Indian defence establishment had kept Japan out of the initial planning for the 19th India-US Malabar naval combat exercise, leaving it to the PMO to take a decision on the matter. With the Modi government now giving the go-ahead, the trilateral planning conference for the Malabar exercise is to be held at Yokosuka towards end-July. “The formal invite to Japan is now being sent,” said a source.
Just before the Malabar drill, India and Australia will also hold their first-ever bilateral naval exercise off Vizag in the Bay of Bengal from September 11 to 21. The exercise will see Australia participate with frigate HMAS Arunta, tanker HMAS Sirius, submarine HMAS Sheehan, with India fielding a destroyer, a frigate and a tanker, apart from aircraft and helicopters.
China had lodged a strong protest against the 2007 Malabar exercise in the Bay of Bengal when they were expanded to include the Japanese, Australian and Singaporean navies as well. China had viewed the multi-lateral exercise as a step towards building a security axis to “contain” it in the Asia-Pacific.
The previous UPA regime had then restricted Malabar to a bilateral exercise when it was held off India. Japan was inducted into the exercise only when it was held in the north-western Pacific in 2009 and 2014.
With the NDA government assuming power last year, the Modi-Obama summits in September and January had agreed “to upgrade” the annual war games in the backdrop of both Japan and Australia being keen to join them on a regular basis.
India, the US and Japan are all wary about China’s growing military capabilities and increasing assertive behavior in the crucial Asia Pacific region. But while New Delhi has been muted about it, both Washington and Tokyo have been quite vocal against China’s aggressive behavior especially in the East and South China Seas.