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Malabar exercise begins, Beijing keeps hawk eye on Quad

Malabar exercise begins, Beijing keeps hawk eye on Quad

The navies of the four Quad countries—India, Japan, Australia and the US—began the second phase of the Malabar maritime exercise in the Arabian Sea which will last from 17-20 November 2020. The first phase has already been conducted in the Bay of Bengal from November 03-06 by the four navies.

This is the 24th edition of the Malabar maritime exercise which has expanded this year to include the Australian Navy, amid increasing regional and global tensions with China. Another feature of the exercise this year was to conduct it on both eastern and western seaboards of peninsular India. During the second phase, the drills will have a high optical payload—focusing on joint manoeuvres by task forces led by two aircraft carriers.

The Nimitz supercarrier of the US and India's Vikramaditya will spearhead a complex exercise which will demonstrate the capability of the Quad to exercise sea control.

<img class="wp-image-25133 size-full" src="https://indianarrative.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/MalabarExercisePhase2Twitter.jpg" alt="MalabarExercisePhase2_IndianNavyTwitter" width="874" height="728" /> The Indian Navy released a fleet of photographs and videos to highlight Phase two of the Malabar maritime exercises with the navies of the US, Japan and Australia (Photo: @indiannavy twitter)

Unsurprisingly the Indian Navy issued a statement spotlighting that the exercise will have "coordinated operations of increasing complexity between the navies of Australia, India, Japan and the United States." The focus this time will be on aircraft carriers—Vikramaditya of the Indian Navy and Nimitz of the US Navy. These two battleships assume importance as they are accompanied by scores of other ships, including destroyers, frigates and submarines.

India's decision to include Australia in the Malabar war games was welcomed widely by the other members of the Quad, including a group of bipartisan US senators who shared their worries about China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and its debt-trap diplomacy.

In a joint letter to Indian ambassador in Washington, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, 14 senators shared their apprehensions about China and said: "We write in strong support of India’s decision to formally invite Australia to participate in the annual Exercise Malabar." The letter said that the strengthening of the Quad has become important also because China has exploited the Covid-19 pandemic to expand its military footprint across the Indo-Pacific. "From the South China Sea to the Himalayas, Beijing continues to use methods of intimidation and territorial aggression to test the resolve of regional actors," wrote the senators.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet">
<p dir="ltr" lang="en"><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Malabar2020?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Malabar2020</a> Phase 2.
??Navy Carrier Battle Group, ?? Navy Carrier Strike Group with ?? &amp; ?? Navy to exercise in the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/IndianOcean?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#IndianOcean</a>, 17-20 Nov 20.
Enhancing <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Maritime?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Maritime</a> Safety &amp; Security for Free, Open &amp; Inclusive <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/IndoPacific?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#IndoPacific</a>.<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NavalCooperation?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NavalCooperation</a><a href="https://twitter.com/Australian_Navy?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Australian_Navy</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/JMSDF_PAO?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JMSDF_PAO</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/USNavy?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@USNavy</a> <a href="https://t.co/T7jgrRtICh">https://t.co/T7jgrRtICh</a> <a href="https://t.co/nGfDqObOpi">pic.twitter.com/nGfDqObOpi</a></p>
— SpokespersonNavy (@indiannavy) <a href="https://twitter.com/indiannavy/status/1328369653161226243?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">November 16, 2020</a></blockquote>
<script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

The exercise has irked China, which has been especially outraged by Australia's participation in the Malabar drills. Chinese propaganda bullhorn, <em>Global Times</em>, wrote a piece—"India, US-led Malabar naval drill a hollow bluff…" saying, "China will not be disrupted by India's irrationality or US interference." The article also tries to castigate India over the Malabar exercise: "it is very unwise and irrational for the Modi government to hold the naval drill that includes all QUAD countries."

Beijing fears that Quad is becoming the spearhead of a China-containment strategy led by the United States. In its attempt to undermine the quartet, China is currently chipping away at Australia—a country with which its relationship is  already going south. British newspaper <em>Daily Mail</em> reported that Beijing has warned Australia of "economic pain" for “aggressively sending warships to China's doorstep” as part of the exercise. Beijing also warned Canberra of not getting too close to the US as the former is an unreliable ally.

But China has also attacked the Indo-US bilateral bonhomie, which has grown strategically this year with the holding of the 2+2 meet between the defence and the foreign ministers of the two countries. China reacted to the 2+2 meet by saying that the US is imposing its hegemony in the region. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that “the Indo-Pacific strategy proposed by the US is preaching outdated Cold War mentality and preaching confrontation and geopolitical game. It is aimed to uphold the hegemony of the US. This runs counter to the common interest for the region and we urge the US to stop this.”

Beijing realizes that the coming together of the four navies will stymie its expansionist role in the South China and the East China Seas where, disregarding international maritime law  it has violated the maritime sovereignty of Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and others. It has also intruded upon the exclusive economic zones of many countries, anchored under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),  by unleashing its fishing, exploration and navy vessels in the South China Sea.

Waking up to the Chinese aggression on its Ladakh borders and its proactive support to Pakistan, India has finally begun to stitch its military partnerships. Besides the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) with the US, India also signed the Mutual Logistics and Support Agreement (MLSA) with Japan and earlier with Australia.

These strategic agreements allow India to improve its military relationships with the Quad countries besides allowing India to access their military bases for logistics support..