America, Australia, India and Japan are building a formidable diplomatic bloc
AMERICAN AIRCRAFT-CARRIERS have not always been welcome in the Indian Ocean. In 1971, during a war between India and Pakistan, America sailed the USS Enterprise into the Bay of Bengal to intimidate India. Decades later, the slight has not been forgotten—but it has been forgiven. The USS Nimitz, an American supercarrier launched a year after that war, has joined its fellow carrier, the INS Vikramaditya, the Indian Navy’s ex-Soviet flagship, off Goa, on India’s west coast, for the second phase of the annual “Malabar” exercises, from November 17th to 20th. Japan, which joined Malabar in 2015, has sent warships, too. So has Australia, which has been invited for the first time in 13 years. The quartet met for the first round of Malabar in the Bay of Bengal, off India’s east coast, earlier this month.
Military drills in Asia are a dime a dozen. China’s naval expansion and tensions in the South China Sea, among other hotspots, have resulted in an explosion of maritime activity in recent years. What is notable about Malabar is its membership, for with Australia’s return it has become a naval reflection of a deepening diplomatic quartet. In 2007 America, Australia, India and Japan met for a “quadrilateral dialogue”, which promptly acquired the snappier title of the “Quad”. That initiative lost steam, in part because Australia, spooked by China’s prickly reaction, broke ranks. A decade later, it was revived: first, among diplomats from the foursome; and then foreign ministers, who met for the second time on October 6th in Tokyo. Though the group’s public statements are replete with diplomatic bromides and euphemism—“a region governed by rules, not power”—the spectre of China and its growing muscle is obvious.