Shedding away its US inhibition in the dying months of the UPA government, the Defence ministry has given the go ahead to invite Japan for the next Indo-US Malabar exercises, knowing well that the next round will take place after the general elections.
The government made the invitation for Japan to join this year’s Malabar exercise on Saturday during the course of the bilateral discussions with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his delegation.
It was in 2007 that the the Malabar, off the coast of India, was a multilateral event and even attracted formal protests from China after which Defence Minister A K Antony took a stand that Indian forces will not participate in any exercise that conveys a sense of military alliance with the US against a third country.
Also, at today’s talks, the two sides have agreed to start a National Security Advisor-level dialogue between the countries in an effort to re-energise the strategic component of the relationship that has hardly progressed despite strong economic relations.
With the Abe government setting up a National Security Council and appointing a NSA – Shotaro Yachi – this conversation, just like with other strategic partners, is now possible. Sources said this dialogue should help break the deadlock on key strategic issues like nuclear and rare earths cooperation, defence purchases and high technology trade. But clearly, this dialogue will start in its right earnest under the next government.
Interestingly, on expanding partcipation in the Malabar exercises, the Defence Ministry did not change its position in all these years despite prods from the Prime Minister’s Office. The only concession Defence Ministry made some time back was that while it will not permit these multilateral exercises off the coast of India, it will not oppose participation of Indian vessels when such exercises happen off the coast of another country.
In the run-up to this visit too, there was considerable pressure from Japan to allow its ships to participate in last year’s Malabar exercises. The Defence Ministry, however, rejected all request despite differing views from other arms of the government. So, as a gesture, a separate bilateral exercise with Japan was organised in December off the coast of India.