The Malabar exercise is a trilateral naval exercise with India, United States of America and Japan as its permanent members. Japan became a permanent member in 2015, other non-permanent member countries who have participated in this exercise include Australia and Singapore. This exercise mainly focuses on Maritime Interdiction which includes naval operations whose main purpose is to delay or disrupt enemy activities. This is done with the help of a range of fighter combat operations from aircraft carriers. It began in the year 1992 between the United States and India and was briefly suspended from 1999-2002 after India's nuclear program. The 22nd exercise was conducted from 7th to 16th June, 2018 off the coast of Guam, Philippines. The exercise consisted of two phases: the harbour phase and the sea phase.
This was the first time in the history of the Malabar exercise that it is being conducted in American territory. The exercise emphasized on the importance of maritime security and harmony between the three participating countries. The training mainly focused on warfighting skill sets, subject matter expert, maritime patrol and reconnaissance. It was the first naval exercise, the US has participated in since it renamed Hawaii based pacific command as Indo-Pacific command amidst the rising influence of China in the region.
The US Navy has deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, missile cruiser USS Antietam and USS Chancellorsville, missile destroyer USS Benfold and P-8A Poseidon aircraft. Indian Navy has deployed INS Kamorta, a Kamorta class stealth corvettes, Japan is deploying its helicopter carrier JDS Ise along with Kawasaki P-1 aircraft and Soryu class conventional submarines.
The joint secretaries from India, Australia, United States and Japan held a meeting at Manila, Philippines on November 12 to discuss the open international order in the Indo Pacific region and about the growing influence of China in the South Sea region. They met again on June 7th in Singapore, after which it was declared that Australia will no longer take part in the Malabar exercise.
Before independence, India and Australia were part of the British nation which facilitated amiable ties between the two countries. There was a joint naval exercise between the two countries called AUSINDEX. Australia was also considered a key member of the QUAD project which also included, Tokyo, Delhi, and Washington, and was created to counter Beijing.
But the reason behind Australia's exit from Malabar may be related to India. The Indian government may have requested a non-permanent member such as Australia be kept away from the exercise to please China post the Doklam standoff. There was a war of words between China and Australia where the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull accused China of espionage and interfering in the internal affairs of Australia which were vehemently denied by Beijing. This incident further soured the diplomatic relations between the two countries. The decision to keep Australia out of the exercise comes after the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi visited China. India refused Australia's request to be a part of the Malabar exercise and in turn tried to please the Chinese. The Malabar exercise has always been a security concern for the Chinese government as it is believed that the QUAD countries hold it to counter China.
Moreover, the cause of worry increased when the exercises were started to be conducted near the South Sea, which China is trying to control.
There are many unresolved issues between China and Australia, and also between India and China. The Doklam standoff and the fight for the power to be the largest economy in Asia has led to a powerful struggle between the 3 countries, China, India and Japan. This recent decision of India has taken it one step closer to a harmonious relationship with its neighbour China but has definitely decreased its future prospects with Australia.