In a significant geopolitical development, India, Japan, the United States, and Australia have commenced the Malabar naval exercise off the coast of Sydney. This marks the first time the joint maritime war games, called Malabar Exercise, traditionally held in the Indian Ocean, have taken place in Australian waters. The strategic manoeuvre comes as tensions simmer between China and the United States, underscoring the region’s importance in the evolving global power dynamics.
Japanese and Indian naval vessels made notable pit stops in the Pacific Island countries of Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea on their voyage to Sydney. This move serves as a clear indicator of the region’s growing strategic relevance amid the intensifying competition between major powers. Vice Admiral Karl Thomas, Commander of the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, emphasised during a press conference in Sydney that the exercise is “not pointed toward any one country,” and aims to enhance the collective operational capabilities of the participating forces.
“The deterrence that our four nations provide as we operate together as a Quad is a foundation for all the other nations operating in this region,” Vice Admiral Thomas stated. He added that the island nations in Oceania, situated northeast of Australia, are now a focal point for all participating nations.
Malabar is a significant Indo-Pacific exercise that deepens interoperability between our regional partners: India, Japan and the US.
This year is being held from the 10th-21st Aug, with Australia hosting for the very first time! pic.twitter.com/CHlui4KxUK
— Royal Australian Navy (@Australian_Navy) August 9, 2023
Reflecting on the historical context, Indian Navy Vice Admiral Dinesh Tripathi remarked on the substantial changes in the global landscape since the inception of the Malabar Exercise in 1992. He noted that Australia’s involvement in the exercise in 2007 sent a significant signal to the world. However, Australia’s participation faced backlash from China, leading to its withdrawal from the Quad in 2008. The Quad was later revived, and Australia reengaged in the Malabar Exercise in 2020, despite China’s continued criticism of the grouping’s intentions.
“The Pacific is very important to us,” affirmed Australian fleet commander Rear Admiral Christopher Smith. He emphasised the importance of transparency in the region’s developments and ambitions, noting the delicate balance between growth and cooperation.
The joint naval exercise brings together naval assets from the four nations, complemented by Australia’s F-35 fighter jets, P-8 surveillance aircraft, and submarines. Rear Admiral Smith highlighted the significance of the underwater battle space, identifying it as the forefront of competition and potential future conflicts.
Malabar’s decision to be held off Australia’s east coast, rather than its west coast facing the Indian Ocean, was attributed to the proximity of ships following the conclusion of the expansive Talisman Sabre exercise involving 13 nations last week.
As the Malabar naval exercise unfolds against the backdrop of shifting regional dynamics, it remains to be seen how the cooperation between these four nations will contribute to regional stability and global security.