• The annual naval exercise is expected to give a boost to defense cooperation 
  • The Malabar Exercise follows the Quad Summit in Tokyo this month
  • The drill was held off the coast of Guam in 2018 and Japan in 2019

Australia will rejoin a combined military exercise with the United States, Japan and India, adding muscle to a revived strategic forum widely seen as a response to China's growing territorial ambitions.

China was not pleased with Australia's decision to join Japan, India and the United States at the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, in Tokyo this month. Customers in China have already deferred or cancelled imports of coal and cotton from Australia.

In Tokyo, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on his counterparts in Australia, Japan and India to unite against China’s “exploitation, corruption and coercion” in the region.

Chinese President Xi Jinping recently asked his troops to be combat-ready after Beijing warned the Trump administration against any military cooperation with Taiwan.

The Malabar Exercise, expected to be held in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea off the coasts of India in November, assumes significance because all participants have a bone or two to pick with China. The Bay of Bengal on the eastern side of India is of strategic interest to China, which has been trying to build influence over littoral states including Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Ties between India and China are at their lowest point since the 1962 war. Dozens of soldiers on either side were killed in a nasty confrontation on the Himalayan border in June. China and Japan are locked in a dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands.

The Malabar Exercise started as an India-U.S. naval exercise in 1992. Australia joined the exercise but withdrew in 2007 after Beijing protested. Japan joined the exercise in 2015.

"As India seeks to increase cooperation with other countries in the maritime security domain and in the light of increased defense cooperation with Australia, Malabar 2020 will see the participation of the Australian Navy," the Indian defense ministry said in a statement.

The annual exercise was conducted off the coast of Guam in 2018 and off the coast of Japan in 2019.

The Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman
The Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman Iranian Army office / -