Satoshi Ikeuchi, Professor, Religion and Global Security, University of Tokyo
The Indian Ministry of Defense announced that Australian Navy would return to the Malabar Naval Exercise 2020. Now all the 4 countries of the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), the US, India, Japan and Australia, are planned to be at the joint exercises which will take place at the end of November in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea.
Australia participated in this drill in 2007 but withdrew in the following year and has not been back since then.
The fact that Australia finally came back shows how things changed around China between in the past decade.
Malabar, originally started as US-India bilateral exercises in the 1992, expanded to an Indo Pacific region-wide framework in 2007, when it moved outside the Indian Ocean for the first time and took place off the Japanese Island Okinawa, involving Japan, Australia and Singapore.
The expansion of Malabar joint in 2007 coincided with the call for the Quad forum initiated by the then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, involving the Vice President Dick Cheney of the US, Prime Minister John Howard of Australia and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India.
The expansion of Malabar in 2007 and its linkage to the nascent Quad was premature and short-lived, as Prime Minister Abe’s first cabinet was, which abruptly ended in September that year, replaced by Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda. The next Prime Minister Fukuda inherited a political dynasty from his late father Takeo Fukuda who, as Prime Minister, concluded the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and the People’s Republic of China in August 1978. The son Yasuo Fukuda followed the trodden path of his father and shelved most of the hardline policies aimed at constraining China during his tenure as Prime Minister.
Similarly, in Australia, the long-serving administration of Mr. Howard of the Liberal Party ended in December 2007 and China-lenient Labor Party took over the government, with Chinese-speaking former diplomat Kevin Rudd at the office of Prime Minister. Rudd government withdrew from Malabar exercise, succumbing to the vehement criticism and pressure from China which was sought after as a possible savior from the world financial crisis in 2007-2008.
After the numerous dashed hopes and years of wishful thinking, countries seem to have decided to face up to the reality. Japan came back to Malabar since 2015 after Mr. Abe came back as Prime Minister. Australia will return to this framework after the Labor Party returned to the ruling position sustained by the rising anti-China sentiment in the public opinion.