Ships from the US and Indian navies, and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force transit in formation.

By defence correspondent Andrew Greene, foreign affairs reporter Stephen Dziedzic and South Asia correspondent James Oaten

20 Oct 20 at 2:23am, updated Yesterday at 8:01am

Ships from the US and Indian navies, and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force transit in formation.
It will be the first time Australia has participated in the large-scale naval exercises in more than a decade.(Supplied: DoD/Chris Cavagnaro)

Key points:

  • Australia has not participated in Exercise Malabar since 2007
  • The decision to stop was made due to concerns over relations with China
  • Beijing views the quadrilateral exercises as threatening

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) last took part in Exercise Malabar in 2007, before the Australian Government withdrew from the naval drills the following year because of concerns over relations with Beijing.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has confirmed Australia will participate in Exercise Malabar 2020, which she described as a “milestone activity”.

“High-end military exercises like Malabar are key to enhancing Australia’s maritime capabilities, building interoperability with our close partners, and demonstrating our collective resolve to support an open and prosperous Indo-Pacific,” Senator Reynolds said.

“Exercise Malabar also showcases the deep trust between four major Indo-Pacific democracies and their shared will to work together on common security interests.”

Japan and the United States have been pushing diplomatically for Australia’s return to the Quadrilateral exercises, which China views as threatening and an effort to contain its military reach.

Exercise Malabar off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, with planes seen on an US aircraft carrier.
The exercises improve the four countries’ capacity to work together across the region.(Reuters: Nobuhiro Kubo)

India had been reluctant to allow the ADF to rejoin the powerful military grouping, but the country’s Defence Ministry confirmed a long-anticipated invitation had finally been made.

“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 ministry said.

“The participants of Exercise Malabar 2020 are engaging to enhance safety and security in the maritime domain.

“They collectively support free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific and remain committed to a rules-based international order.”

Decision makes Quad ‘very formidable’

HMAS Brisbane with dark clouds behind it.
Sources say HMAS Brisbane could take part in the exercises, but this has not been confirmed.(ABC News: Rachel Riga)

Australia is yet to announce which naval assets will deploy to Exercise Malabar in the Indian Ocean, but defence sources have suggested a warship such as HMAS Hobart or HMAS Brisbane would be likely to go.

The Malabar invitation follows a Quad foreign ministers’ meeting in Tokyo earlier this month, attended by Foreign Minister Marise Payne

“It will bolster the ability of India, Australia, Japan and the United States to work together to uphold peace and stability across our region,” Senator Payne said.If Morrison’s defence strategy sounds like war talk, that’s because it isIf there’s a benefit to any anxiety caused by Scott Morrison’s bleak outlook of security in our region, it’s that it will save time.Read more

“This builds on the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, to which Prime Minister Morrison and Prime Minister Modi agreed on 4 June 2020, and which I progressed with my counterpart, Minister of External Affairs Jaishankar, this month when we met in Tokyo.”

India’s former Naval spokesman DK Sharma, who has long advocated for Australia’s return to the Malabar exercises, said having all four nations taking part made the Quad a more formal security alliance.

“It makes it very, very formidable,” DK Sharma told the ABC.

“The way [China] is moving out, the first island chain and the second island chain, now you have Japan on top, you have the Pacific more or less under the control of the US, then we have Australia which will have a good look towards either the Pacific or Indian Ocean Pacific, and then we have India.

“None of us are behaving in a way China is behaving — there is a difference, we are all talking security, prosperity, peace, tranquillity … Those guys are only talking about grabbing the nations, making their ports, militarising them, grabbing the islands.”

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