MALABAR-2017 will witness India, US, and Japan conduct joint naval exercises in the Bay of Bengal. This is the 21st edition of the exercises but this year’s exercises hold a special significance with relation to the larger picture for all three parties involved in the exercises.
This year’s MALABAR naval exercises can be termed as a mutual show of strength against recent Chinese regional ambitions. China has moved its gaze towards the Indian subcontinent as it looks to secure its investments in the OBOR and OPEC projects by showing a stronger military presence near the Indian border and Pakistan. The recent border standoff between India and China is a clear indicator of this strategy. Reports from the navy also suggest the presence of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean as well.
China has also been aggressively pursuing its claims in the South China Sea by developing parts of the Spratly Islands into Chinese military bases. This has severe repercussions for both Japan and the US. If China succeeds in controlling the South China Sea, it could effectively dictate the terms of trade that passes through the sea, which for a country that relies on trade could prove devastating for Japan. Meanwhile, the US has a vested interest in ensuring that the South China Sea remain a multilateral area to ensure that its relations with its allies in the region are not negatively harmed.
With this in mind, the MALABAR-2017 comes at an opportune time, when all parties need to show a strong military capacity and presence in the region to stem any Chinese ambitions before the Chinese feel confident enough to act on them.