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Last Updated: Monday, 3 September 2007, 12:08 GMT 13:08 UK
New 'strategic partnership' against China
By Mahmud Ali
BBC News

China is wary over closer defence ties of its neighbours

Ships, aircraft and submarines from four countries begin week-long war games in the Bay of Bengal on 4 September.

It is the first flexing of muscles by the newly-formed "Quadrilateral Initiative", which brings together the US, Japan, India and Australia.

Singapore also has a small presence in the exercises.

Many analysts see the manoeuvres as efforts by a democratic coalition to "contain" rising Chinese power.

Although the participants deny this, Beijing seems to be increasingly worried.

Beijing unconvinced

When the four powers set up the initiative (informally named the Quad) in Manila last May, a deeply-concerned Beijing sent formal protests to the four governments.

Chinese soldiers march during a parade after joint military exercises in Chebarkul , Russia (17 Aug)

Quad members reassured China that their "strategic partnership" was only aimed at maintaining regional security, and was not targeting any particular power.

A month later, Chinese President Hu Jintao sought clarification from Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the G8 summit in Germany. Although he received reiterations of peace and friendship, Chinese commentary suggests Beijing was not convinced.

Dubbed Malabar 07-02, these are the biggest joint manoeuvres Indian warships have participated in.

They were preceded by extensive discussions in Delhi.

In July, Australia's Defence Minister, Brendan Nelson, set out the policy framework of defence collaboration.

US and Indian naval officers
Defence co-operation between the US and India has recently grown

A month later, Admiral Russell Shalders, commander of the Australian navy, visited India - to work out the mechanics of collaboration and the details of the exercises.

Just days later, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in Delhi, offering substantial economic and commercial assistance if India agreed to anchor "an Asian arc of freedom" stretching across the Indian and Pacific Oceans and providing a democratic bulwark - presumably against non-democratic powers.

Defence coalition

As Mr Abe prepared to leave, his Defence Minister, Yoriko Koike, and the Commander of US Pacific Command, Admiral Timothy Keating, arrived in Delhi, to finalise details of defence co-operation and Malabar 07-02.

This flurry of senior-level exchanges and the size and complexity of the manoeuvres add weight to the arguments of those who say that the Quad is rapidly gelling into a defence coalition.

Two US aircraft carriers and one from India, as well as 11 other US ships will join more than a dozen vessels from India, Australia and Singapore to test out how well they can work together against common threats.

US Navy on exercise
There is increasing competition for influence on the Asian seas

Although Quad members insist China has nothing to fear, a similar exercise (Malabar 07-01) involving US, Indian and Japanese warships churned the waters of the South China Sea in April.

Bilateral war games are not new for Quad members, but there seems recently to have been a new momentum.

Defence papers issued by all four governments have described China as a potential threat, and that combined with the launch of the Quad suggest a pattern of alliance-building activities that China cannot ignore.

Perhaps as a sign of things to come, 1,600 Chinese troops travelled to Russia's Ural mountains to join several thousand mostly Russian troops in "Peace Mission 2007" manoeuvres in August.

These ended as President Vladimir Putin hosted Hu and the presidents of four other Shanghai Co-operation Organisation countries (after their annual summit in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek) at the closing ceremony.

Mr Putin then announced the resumption of long-range bomber sorties towards Nato airspace, which had been suspended after the Soviet collapse.

The Cold War may not be back, but with trade and security tensions rising between the US, China and Russia, a chill wind seems to be blowing as Asia redesigns its strategic alignments.

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