The QUAD alliance could soon be a reality as India is prepared to allow Australia to join the annual trilateral Malabar naval exercise involving India-Japan-USA. With Australia joining in, this could cement the QUAD alliance which Beijing considers as an anti-China grouping.
The latest decision to allow Australia to be a part of exercise comes at the heels of Chinese aggression in Ladakh, South China Sea (SCS) and the Strait of Taiwan. According to experts, the arrival of Australia could re-activate the Quadrilateral Alliance (QUAD) between Australia-India-Japan-USA.
Defence officials speaking to The Hindu said that while a decision to on whether to extend the invitation is expected “soon”, it was unlikely to be announced during today’s “virtual summit” between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison.
The summit will focus on cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region and strengthening of defence ties between New Delhi and Canberra. The long-pending Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) is also likely to be concluded as part of the measures to elevate the strategic partnership.
The signing of MLSA would allow reciprocal use of each other’s military bases in exchange for fuel and provisions to simplify logistical support and improve operational turnaround. New Delhi and Canberra have been working on finalising the MLSA since last year but the deal could not go through due to unavoidable circumstances such as COVID-19.
In a bid to solidify their Indo-Pacific friendship, both countries are also working on a maritime cooperation agreement with an emphasis on Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA). Such an agreement makes sense as they share common military platforms.
If India does formally invite Australia, it could reshape the Indo-Pacific region. As reported by EurAsian Times earlier, QUAD was an informal security dialogue established to counter growing Chinese influence in the Indian and Pacific Ocean. Although never formalised, the group could not work since China issued all four partners a demarche after it was announced.
Experts at EurAsian Times believe that India’s decision to allow Australia to participate at Malabar 2020 could lead to a re-activation of the QUAD. Since member countries were earlier hesitant to get on the wrong side of Beijing, QUAD did not really take-off. The last time Australia participated in the naval drill was in 2007 along with Singapore.
Australia did requests to India to join the Malabar drill in the past but New Delhi rejected it in a bid to not strain its ties with China. However, the recent India-China tensions at the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh may have brought more flexibility to the decision-making process.
Japan and the US are unlikely to oppose Canberra’s inclusion in the exercise since Chinese aggression in the India and Pacific Ocean have only increased. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, China has made provocative moves to test the response of neighbouring countries and allies in the SCS, India Ocean region and the Strait of Taiwan.
Malabar 2020 will be held in Japan in either July or August. The exercise started in 1992 between New Delhi and Washington and was expanded to include Tokyo in 2015. The arrival of Canberra will be a welcome break and would suggest the growing seriousness and synergy among four key Indo-Pacific powers and re-activation of QUAD.