The first phase of the Malabar exercise involving the navies of four ‘Quad’ nations ~ India, the USA, Japan and Australia ~ will be held from 3- 6 November in the Bay of Bengal off Visakhapatnam coast.

The second phase of the exercise will take place from 17-20 November in the Arabian Sea, sources said. This will be the first time in 13 years that the four nations will jointly conduct the mega war games amid the growing Chinese assertiveness on maritime issues in the Indo-Pacific region and the South China Sea.

Earlier this month, India gave up its reluctance and formally invited Australia to join the Malabar series of naval exercises in a move that was welcomed by both the USA and Japan.

The invitation by India to the Australian Navy came two weeks after the foreign ministers of the ‘Quad’ held extensive talks in Tokyo with the focus on enhancing cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. China has been uncomfortable with the informal coalition of the four democracies, which was first formed in 2004.

Beijing recently stated that it had “taken note” of Australia’s inclusion in the Malabar exercise while underlining that military cooperation should be “conducive” to regional peace and stability. India had started the Malabar exercise with the US in 1992. Japan joined the exercise in 1992.

Despite Canberra’s keenness, India was reluctant to include Australia in the exercise keeping in mind the sensitivities of China. But the India-China equation has changed dramatically in the wake of the military stand-off at eastern Ladakh.

Reacting to Australia’s inclusion in the exercise, its Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said the decision was another important step in Australia’s deepening relationship with India. “It will bolster the ability of India, Australia, Japan and the United States to work together to uphold peace and stability across our region,” she said.