‘Not time yet for Australia’s inclusion in Malabar naval games’

‘Not time yet for Australia’s inclusion in Malabar naval games’

Sources, however, say there has been no pressure from China to keep the country out

Involving Australia in the Malabar exercises would send a political message, which India is not prepared to do. But there is no pressure from China to keep Australia out of the exercises with the U.S. and Japan, a defence source said on Monday.

“If we do a quad exercise, it has political messaging. So what is the big value in having that exercise as opposed to Malabar? So we strengthen the bilateral engagement, focus on practical engagement, have closer dialogue bilaterally and plurilaterally with Australia,” the defence source said on Australia’s request to be part of the trilateral Malabar exercise involving India, Japan and the U.S.

On the Quad, which also includes Australia, the source observed that discussions have had a “certain evolution recently,” but they have definitely not reached a stage where they could think of a defence angle. However, to say that India is unwilling to exercise or there is Chinese pressure on India is incorrect.

Stating that there has perhaps been some disappointment in terms of what India is doing at Malabar, the source said: “Our priority is not to try and project what doesn’t exist, but try and build on solid steps of cooperation.”

Expanding exercise

Malabar began as a bilateral naval exercise between India and the US in 1992 and has grown in scope and complexity in recent years. In 2015, it was expanded into a trilateral format with the inclusion of Japan. However, India has not accepted repeated requests from Australia to be included in the exercise, which is seen with suspicion by China.

On India’s broader military to military engagement, the source said India has made strides in the last few years, especially in West Asia.

Surveillance network

As part of efforts to ensure fool proof coastal security in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks, India is setting up a chain of coastal surveillance radar network across the country’s coastline and Island territories as well in some Indian Ocean littoral states to monitor traffic movement on the high seas.

The official said discussions are now on with several countries in the neighbourhood to expand it further. They include Bangladesh, Myanmar, Mozambique, Madagascar, Thailand and Indonesia. “To Indonesia, we offered a pilot project on one of their islands. Based on the experience, it can be expanded,” a source stated.

Information from the radar chain is integrated at the Navy’s Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) and helps in Maritime Domain Awareness. India has recently set up an Information Fusion Centre for the Indian Ocean Region and plans to have liaison officers of friendly countries posted there in due course to enable seamless information exchange.

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