The United States, Japan, and India kicked off their Malabar maritime exercises today, the first such trilateral undertaking. Even before the exercises started, Japan had already announced that it would become a permanent participant in the annual event, the Business Standard reports:
In a major shift for New Delhi, Exercise Malabar, a hitherto bilateral US-India annual event, albeit with foreign invitees, will now be permanently designated a trilateral US-Japan-India exercise. Defence Ministry sources tell Business Standard a formal case has been taken up in New Delhi and an announcement will soon be made.
This will be another overt Indian step towards the western Pacific, one that New Delhi has so far hesitated to take. In 2007, after a five-nation Exercise Malabar, with Japan, Australia and Singapore as invitees to what strategists dubbed a “concert of democracies”, Beijing went on a diplomatic offensive. New Delhi quickly backed off, soothing Chinese feelings by reverting to a bilateral format.
The news comes amid a growing chorus of reports that the United States will maneuver ships within twelve nautical miles of Beijing’s disputed outposts in the South China Sea. If Chinese President Xi Jinping is concerned about any of this, however, he isn’t showing it with his actions. Beijing professes to be “severely concerned” about the prospect of American ships in what it considers its territory, but it remains unclear how the Chinese would actually respond.
Elsewhere, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to help the United States relocate its Marine base hit another snag after the governor of Okinawa revoked permission. That’s just the latest domestic hurdle for Japanese political leaders eager to strengthen military cooperation and oppose an assertive China.