The Chinese belligerence alone can explain why at long last, India has decided to bite the bullet and invite Australia to join the Malabar exercise next month. This will be the first time that the navies of all four members of the Quadrilateral grouping of US, Japan, India and Australia, will conduct joint exercises in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. India announced the far-reaching decision on Monday. Simulated war games and combat manoeuvres and anti-submarine warfare are part of the exercise.

Last year, these were conducted off the Japanese coast. Though the Malabar exercise had begun between the Indian and the US navies in 1992, with an eye on the Chinese sensitivities, India was reluctant to invite other nations to join. However, given the recent events in the Ladakh sector of the Indo-China Line of Actual Control, and the Chinese refusal to withdraw from the territory it occupied earlier in April this year, India cannot be blamed for seeking to widen military cooperation.

In some way, all member-States constituting the Quadrilateral or Quad are at the receiving end of the Chinese aggressive behaviour, both in the military and economic spheres. There were other indications of a greater degree of cooperation between the Quad members. Efforts to conclude the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement ahead of the Indo-US two-plus-two ministerial meeting of defence and foreign ministers of the two countries in New Delhi later this month are also gathering steam.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper are likely to attend the meeting in person. The agreement will allow India to access the US geospatial intelligence for better and accurate targeting by its defence systems, such as missiles, rockets, armed drones, etc. China has been critical of the Quad from the beginning, but in recent times, with Australia again participating enthusiastically, the four-state grouping seems to have received a purposeful boost.

Reacting to India’s invitation to Australia, a Chinese government spokesman said in Beijing that it had 'taken note’ of the development, adding that such military cooperation should be 'conducive’ to regional peace and stability. Coming from China, a paean to regional peace and stability sounds rather rich, given that it alone is responsible for seeking to destabilise the entire region through its aggressive actions, both on land and sea.

China had earlier expressed suspicion that the Quad was an effort to form what it called an 'Asian NATO.’ Meanwhile, the report that a PLA soldier who had apparently lost his way, crossing over into the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control and was captured by the Indian Army spoke of the utmost care provided to him. He was to be returned to China on Tuesday. Such considerate treatment contrasts sharply with the inhumane treatment Pakistan and even China, mete out to Indian soldiers under similar circumstances.