US-backed 'Quad' starts joint naval exercises in India waters

The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in the Bay of Bengal as part of Exercise Malabar 2017.
The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in the Bay of Bengal as part of Exercise Malabar 2017.PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG) - The navies of India, Japan, Australia and the US began their first joint exercises in the Indian Ocean since the revival of the Quad alliance amid heightened tensions with China.

The Malabar exercise will see warships exercising in the Bay of Bengal near the Malacca Strait, a natural choke point and later in the Arabian Sea, along some of the world's busiest trade routes.

China has been uncomfortable with the Quad alliance, which was first formed in 2007 and revived in 2017, and has made clear its unease with the military drills.

"We hope relevant countries' military operation will be conducive to regional peace and stability, instead of the contrary," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular briefing in Beijing on Tuesday (Nov 3).

The naval exercise comes amid the worst border dispute in four decades between India and China and as the United States heads to polls with President Donald Trump seeking a second term in office after a damaging trade war with Beijing.

Australia joined the Malabar exercise days after a meeting of Quad members in Tokyo on Oct 6, where foreign ministers of the four nations met face-to-face.

"Our objective remains advancing the security and the economic interests of all countries having legitimate and vital interests in the region," India's Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said at the meeting.

Setting the tone for the high-profile four-nation naval exercise, the Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said the need to cooperate with like-minded countries was stronger than ever before.

The exercise was an "important opportunity to work in concert with like-minded nations to support a secure, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region," she added.