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Australia’s request to rejoin Malabar Naval Exercise may be blocked by India

An Australian Defence Force bid to join multilateral naval exercises is poised to be blocked by India over concerns it could inflame diplomatic tensions with China.

For a quarter of a century military assets from the United States and India, and more recently Japan, have come together for joint annual naval drills known as Exercise Malabar, north of Australia.

In 2007 Australia took part in the Malabar Exercises, but withdrew from the quadrilateral drills and accompanying security talks following concerns expressed by Beijing.

The ABC has learnt that in the past few weeks Australia's Defence attaché to New Delhi has requested that India allow the ADF to attend this year's exercises as an official "observer".

Yesterday during a visit to Tokyo, Defence Minister Marise Payne acknowledged Australia's desire to join the military event in July.

"Australia is very interested in a quadrilateral engagement with India, Japan and the United States," Senator Payne said.

"What form that may take is a matter of discussion between our various countries."

In a statement to the ABC the Defence Department said "Australia has regularly discussed the matter of the Australian Defence Force's involvement in Exercise Malabar with India since 2015.

"Australia and India are looking to capitalise on the positive momentum of our defence relationship, to deepen engagement, increase consistency and complexity of our activities."

However, in India there has been growing speculation among military officials that New Delhi will shortly reject Australia's request to take part in this year's exercises, also because of concerns over China's possible reaction to the move.

The Defence Department said "India has not indicated whether the Australian Defence Force will be invited to the Exercise Malabar in 2017".

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