New Delhi: India on Monday officially invited Australia to join the upcoming Malabar exercise conducted by the Indian Navy, making it a ‘Quad’ or Quadrilateral coalition, joined by the US and Japan. Also Read - Indian Navy Successfully Test-fires BrahMos Anti Ship Missile

Japan and the United States participate in the annual exercise every year, which is likely to take place next month in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. Also Read - Debris of Crashed MiG-29K Found in Arabian Sea, Pilot Still Missing: Indian Navy

“As India seeks to increase cooperation with other countries in the maritime security domain and in the light of increased defence cooperation with Australia, Malabar 2020 will see the participation of the Australian Navy,” the defence ministry said in a statement. Also Read - IAF Carries Out Special Rescue Mission To Bring Back Covid-19 Positive Scientists From Central Asia

Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds confirmed the participation in a tweet with a joint press release and said that the exercise will “bring together four key regional defence partners”.

Australia has been showing keen interest in joining the exercise for the last few years, while Japan and the US had been urging for its inclusion.

Exercise Malabar 2020

In 2018, the annual Malabar exercise was held off the coast of Guam in the Philippine Sea, while it was held off the coast in Japan in 2019.

This year it is scheduled to be conducted in the Bay of Bengal and in the Arabian Sea.

However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the naval exercise this year has been planned in a ‘no-contact – at sea’ format.

All four participants of the Malabar naval exercise will engage in enhancing safety and security in the maritime domain. The four nations collectively support free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific and remain committed to a rules-based international order, a statement from the defence ministry read.

Slap in the face for China

India’s decision to make Australia part of the mega naval drill comes in the midst of escalating strain in ties with China over the six-month-long border row in eastern Ladakh. The exercise aims to strengthen India’s force by increasing coordination between the navies of the participating countries.

China has been suspicious about the purpose of the Malabar exercise as it feels that the annual war game is an effort to contain its influence in the Indo-Pacific region. The Malabar exercise started in 1992 as a bilateral drill between the Indian Navy and the US Navy in the Indian Ocean. Japan became a permanent participant in the exercise in 2015.