The annual Indian-US MALABAR drills may be joined by India’s increasingly close friend in the region, Japan, for the first time in the Bay of Bengal since Modi took office. The Diplomat has the details on an unconfirmed report carried in the Indian Express:
The report cited unnamed sources as saying that this was confirmed at the seventh U.S.-India-Japan trilateral dialogue held in Honolulu last Friday.
When the 2007 edition of the exercises in the Bay of Bengal were expanded to include Japan and Australia, Beijing lashed out at what looked like the so-called quadrilateral security dialogue or ‘quad’ between the United States, Australia, Japan and India operating at sea. As such, while India had included Japan in the 2009 and 2014 exercises held in the north-western Pacific, it was unclear whether Tokyo would be invited to the 2015 version back in the Bay of Bengal as well. But if the report about the confirmation is to be believed, the issue of Japan’s involvement this year is now resolved.
The Bay of Bengal, the next major body of water west of the South China Sea, is both strategically and symbolically important. This year’s MALABAR drills won’t be far from Sri Lanka, which, as we’ve written, is a sort of hinge for China’s designs on the Indian Ocean, where China and India are competing for influence. Establishing a powerful presence in the Indian Ocean is key to China’s ultimate goal of achieving strategic control of sea lanes from the Middle East.
If Japan joins the MALABAR drills, all eyes, no doubt, will be on China’s response as three key countries opposed to China’s territorial aggression show about their naval power, and their willingness to wield it.