Read Editorial with D2G – Ep 463

Malabar moment

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Meanings are given in BOLD

Delhi’s reported openness ( lack of restriction; accessibility )  to Australia’s participation in India’s annual naval exercises with the US and Japan hopefully ( in a hopeful manner ) marks the end of its incredibly ( to a great degree; extremely )  slow adaptation ( the action or process of adapting or being adapted ) to a rapidly changing maritime environment in the Indo-Pacific littoral ( relating to or situated on the shore of the sea or a lake ).

In inviting Australia, Delhi is also hopefully putting away its needless ( not necessary because avoidable ) defensiveness on choosing its partners for security cooperation. Way back in 2007, the Indian Navy invited the maritime forces of Japan, Australia and Singapore to join its annual bilateral Malabar naval exercises with the United States. On the face of it, having a five-nation naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal seemed ( give the impression of being something or having a particular quality )  sensible, to optimise the costs of conducting so many separate bilateral exercises with India’s partners. It turned out to be anything but.

In Delhi, all hell ( a situation, experience, or place of great suffering )  broke loose as China objected to the exercises and its media began to describe them as the first step towards the creation of an “Asian NATO”. The defence minister of the UPA government, AK Antony, got hot under the collar ( seize or apprehend (someone) ; catch ; capture )  at the political storm the Bay of Bengal exercises had triggered ( caused by particular action, process, or situation).

The Left parties, which were a major part of the Congress-led UPA coalition, who were generally opposed to engagement with the West, announced street protests. An angry Antony pulled the plug on any multilateral naval exercises, but also applied political and bureaucratic ( relating to a system of government in which most of the important decisions are taken by state officials rather than by elected representatives )  brakes on the ambitious defence cooperation agenda that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his predecessor ( a person who held a job or office before the current holder ) in the defence ministry, Pranab Mukherjee, had agreed to in 2005.

It was only the advent of the NDA government in 2014 that saw renewed momentum to India-US defence cooperation and more broadly India’s naval and military diplomacy. It green lighted the participation of Japan in the Malabar exercises in 2015 and will now welcome Australia.

India, however, has lost much valuable time in the 13 years since the Bay of Bengal exercises. Today China is far more powerful and its navy now maintains a permanent feature of the Indian Ocean. It has acquired ( buy or obtain (an asset or object) for oneself )  its first military base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. Karachi and Gwadar are already de-facto ( in fact, whether by right or not ) naval facilities for the PLA Navy.

There is mounting speculation that Iran is about to let China develop port facilities at the mouth of the strategic Hormuz Strait in the Gulf. Meanwhile, China’s political and military influence is growing in the island states of the Indian Ocean and the PLA has emerged as a major strategic actor in the east coast of Africa. Delhi had bet that deference to Chinese sensitivities would limit Beijing’s potential threats to India. The opposite has happened.

As China turns more assertive ( having or showing a confident and forceful personality )  in the Great Himalayas as well as the Indian Ocean, Delhi is now scrambling ( struggle )  to find answers. The decision to invite Australia into the Malabar exercise can only be a small part of a much larger strategy that Delhi needs to address the long term strategic consequences of China’s rise and its impact on India’s security.

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