India-Australia-Quad Strategic Dynamics
As regards Australia’s participation in the ensuing Malabar Exercises (ME) there is a misleading impression that Canberra was thus far reluctant to participate in these because India was under tremendous pressure from China to ensure that Australia is not allowed to join the Quad. The fact of the matter is that Australia itself was under a strong pressure from China not to join Quad.
The broad contours of the Malabar Exercises (ME)and giving them a final shape and ME’s implementation were done in 1992. The 2007 ME held in the Western Pacific assumed significance because of the participation of the formidable presence of Japan. The inclusion of Australia and Singapore in the 2007 ME introduced a sense of immense anxiety for China.
The 2007 ME were originally intended to be a US-India bilateral venture, Japan joined in later, but India was still skeptical and had its own reservations regarding the inclusion of Australia, even though the latter was quite keen.
The third edition of the India-Australia defence exercise Ausindex held at Vizagapatnam from April 2 to April 14 2019 had its main focus on intensifying cooperation and interoperability between the two navies. India was able to benefit from Australia’s acumen related to anti-submarine warfare.
It was the resounding success of the 2019 joint naval exercise which prompted Canberra to state “ Australia sees value in participating in Quad defence activities in order to increase interoperability and advance on collective interests in a free open and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.”
China has sent a demarche to each one of the Quad’s participants
In the context of consolidating the Quad , the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said “ the world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire. America stands with its south-eastern allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources. For the first time India has unequivocally stated that South China Sea was part of the global commons and said “We firmly stand for freedom of navigation and overflight and unimpeded lawful commerce in these international waterways, in accordance with international law, notably UNCLOS.”
Quite significant, after all, Beijing claims almost 1.3 million miles of the South China Sea.
India-Australia Security Relationship now a Strategic Partnership :
Following a virtual Summit between Prime-Minister Scott Morrison and Prime-Minister Modi in June this year this bilateral defence cooperation has been upgraded to a strategic partnership.
Some salient features of the above Summit have rendered it possible to extend the bilateral use of naval bases in Andaman & Nicobar and Australia’s Cocos (Keeling Islands) This significant compact also seeks to enhance –mutual logistics support and freedom of navigation by ensuring nations observe the norms laid down under UNCLOS.
Factors which can disturb the Expectations of the Victim nations of China’s hegemony:
- Beijing’s coercive diplomacy (Philippines, Vietnam, Myyanmar, Bangla Desh are but a few examples.
- Change of leadership bringing about a change in policies of Quad nations in general and the US in particular (a Jeo Biden as the future US president may pursue a track which is completely China friendly and flies in the face of the present US stance.
India has at last fine- tuned its Strategic Options:
India’s disingenuous belief and misguided expectation that deference to China’s sensibilities, would, hopefully usher in greater bilateral cordiality has proven to utterly wrong, as is borne out by the Galwan episode.
China’s Dominance in the Indo-Pacific:
China claims suzerainty over almost the entire South China Sea, much to the helplessness of its neighbours. It has over the decades, built artificial islands on the reefs and small islands with fortifications. Its Nine Dash Line is a blatant transgression of United Nations Convention on the Laws of The Sea (UNCLOS)
China lost an appeal by Philippines on July 9, 2016 . Manila’s appeal to an arbitral tribunal sought to restore the sovereign rights of Philippines for a zone which legitimately belonged to Philippines. However, consequent to the judgment by the UNCLOS authorized tribunal, Beijing was able to intimidate a hapless Philippines to accept the China imposed Nine Dash Line (which misleadingly confers historical rights on China)
China has sunk Vietnamese fishing vessels and an annoyed Vietnam could not do much against its ever bullying neighbour.
China has fully developed strategically important naval bases right from Djibouti in the horn of Africa to Karachi and Gwadar- and as per the latest reports Iran is on the verge of handing over the India constructed Chabahar port to it, since India has refused to infuse funds for the ports development under pressure from the US. Of course, China benefits immensely, it will be able to extend its Economic Corridor through Iran and get oil on terms which it can dictate.
China exerted immense pressure on Australia to refrain from the 2008 ME and Australia’s Labour Party government under Prime-Minister Kevin Rudd could do nothing better than to buckle under pressure from China.