Defence has confirmed Australia won’t participate in a major Indian naval drill

Australia’s push to re-join India’s major Malabar naval exercises has failed ahead of a meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in China tomorrow.

Defence has confirmed Australia will not be a part of Exercise Malabar in 2018, despite Canberra lobbying New Delhi to be a part of the major multilateral naval drill.

“Australia does not expect to participate in Exercise Malabar in 2018,” a Defence Department Spokesman told The Australian.

In January, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said discussions on Australia returning to multilateral naval exercises were “progressing well”.

Government sources said Australia remains interested in participating in the exercise and said the country had simply not received an invitation from India to take part this year.

Australia’s exclusion has been viewed by experts as a casualty of India’s warming ties with China and a blow to efforts to revive the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which the Turnbull government has been keen to promote.

Experts have said if all four quad countries — India, Australia, the US and Japan — were to be involved in military drills such as Exercise Malabar it would bolster the grouping.

Strategic Studies Programme Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, Abhijnan Rej, said the decision was likely due to the moves Mr Modi has made this year to “reset” relations with China.

“There is a fear that including Australia in the Malabar exercises will come out as signal against the Chinese,” he told The Australian.

“(There are reports that) India will not invite Australia for the Malabar exercises and this is very consistent with what we have been hearing here for some time that because of India’s (reset with) China perhaps India will not invite Australia.”

Mr Rej said Australia’s exclusion could have consequences for the quad and mean the grouping fails to have strategic significance.

“A necessary condition for the kind of political-military quad that I envisioned ... is high-level four-way exercises. And the mood in official New Delhi is that there is no way anybody will antagonise China a year before general elections,” he tweeted.

The quad was first revived at an officials meeting last year after the Rudd government pulled out of it over concerns it might harm Australia’s relations with Beijing. The exercise in 2017 include US Navy ships from the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group, Indian aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya and Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force helicopter carrier JS Izumo.

The move is a major shift from earlier in the year when Australian leaders were upbeat about the possibility of joining the exercises.

Senior Editor at the Diplomat Ankit Panda tweeted that the news would be “disappointing”.

“A quadrilateralised Malabar 2018 seemed like low-hanging fruit,” he tweeted.