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The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group and units from the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and Australian Defense Force participate in trilateral exercises in the Philippine Sea on July 21
(Photo: the U.S. Naval Forces Japan)
The US Navy announced on Tuesday it had started a trilateral exercise in the Philippine Sea with the Australian Defense Force and Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force.
The USS Ronald Reagan – America’s aircraft carrier, guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam and guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin were joined by Japan's Teruzuki destroyer, Australia's Stuart and Arunta frigates, Canberra landing helicopter dock ship, Hobart destroyer, and Sirius fleet replenishment vessel.
According to Nikkei Asian Review, the drill began Sunday, just one day before the US and Indian navies started their joint exercises in the Indian Ocean, which was led by the American aircraft carrier USS Nimitz.
The U.S., Japan, India and Australia have been holding the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, since 2007. Some nations, however, were still cautious not to paint the gathering as the foundation of an Asian NATO, or a military grouping.
In 2007, Australia assured China that it preferred to restrict the Quad to issues of trade and culture. Meanwhile, India emphasized to China that the Quad had no security implications.
However, the exercises held involving all our Quad countries in the Indo-Pacific region has raised analysts concerns as to whether such "bashfulness," was receding.
Public sentiment in India is changing quickly following the recent border clash in the Himalayas with China.
"With India appearing poised to invite Australia to the Malabar naval exercises this year, the symbolism will not be lost on China," said Derek Grossman, senior defense analyst at the California-based Rand Corp. "Having all four Quad members conducting a de facto Quad military exercise will demonstrate unified resolve to counter and compete with China across the Indo-Pacific and indeed the world."
"If Australia is invited to join the Malabar exercises, it indeed would provide renewed optimism for military operationalization of the Quad," said Sameer Lalwani, a South Asia expert at the Washington-based Stimson Center.
According to Patrick Gerard Buchan, director of the U.S. Alliances Project at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, while India's level of caution toward the Quad had been lowered due to the recent border clashes, "it hasn't dropped altogether”. In fact, the Quad has always faced a balancing act with China.
Stimson's Lalwani, on the other hand, said India and the US’s joint exercise in the Indian Ocean is a precursor of things to come.
|Seaman Alexander Chitty stands forward lookout watch on the signal bridge of the USS Ronald Reagan in Bien Dong Sea. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy)|
Accordingly, just outside the Strait of Malacca, the Nimitz carrier, guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton, and guided-missile destroyers USS Sterett and USS Ralph Johnson joined India's Rana, Sahyadri, Shivalik and Kamorta for joint exercises.
"That there were significant U.S. and Indian guided missile ships deployed together cannot go unnoticed and suggests the potential for formidable air defense and anti-submarine-warfare operations," Lalwani said.
Patrick Cronin, the Asia-Pacific security chair at the Hudson Institute think tank, agreed. "The international naval exercises underway in the Indo-Pacific are just the latest demonstration of India, Australia, and Japan shedding prior inhibitions about multilateral military maneuvers," he said.
The naval exercises come at the time when all four Quad countries’ relations with China is worsen.
"Since 2016, major powers have become more assertive in advancing their strategic preferences and seeking to exert influence, including China's active pursuit of greater influence in the Indo-Pacific," Australia said in its 2020 Defence Strategic Update paper last month. "Australia is concerned by the potential for actions, such as the establishment of military bases, which could undermine stability in the Indo-Pacific and our immediate region."
"The Chinese Navy and Air Force have in recent years expanded and intensified their activities in the surrounding sea areas and airspace of Japan, and there are cases involving the one-sided escalation of activities," Japan said in its own 2020 defense white paper.
Retired Indian Navy Rear Adm. Sudarshan Shrikhande, former head of naval intelligence, believed the Quad partnership could potentially expand to include more neighbors.
"As a core formulation, the Quad with perhaps some among ASEAN members, may eventually become a useful counterweight to China's muscle-flexing and ambitions”, Shrikhande was quoted by Nikkei Asian Review as saying.
For that to happen, Shrikhande said, the Quad's cooperation needs to be multidomained. "Increased naval deployments in the Indian Ocean region as well as in the Western Pacific are one aspect, but the diplomatic, economic and even information campaigns to rally closer have not happened anytime in the past."
"I can sense a willingness in the four capitals to move from talk to walk," he said.
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