For the first time in more than a decade, the Australian Defence Force will participate in military exercises with US, Japanese and Indian navies.
The return to the joint manoeuvres after its participation in 2007 is expected to intensify diplomatic tensions between Australia and China.
The fresh fears come after Defence Minister Linda Reynolds met her Japanese counterpart in Tokyo where both warned against attempts to “change the status quo by coercion” in the South China Sea.
Dubbed Exercise Malabar 2020, the large-scale naval drills will take place off the coast of India in the Bay of Bengal in November.
Senator Reynolds said this was a “milestone activity” that showcased “the deep trust between four major Indo-Pacific democracies and their shared will to work together on common security interests”.
Such high-end military exercises are “key to enhancing Australia’s maritime capabilities, building interoperability with our close partners, and demonstrating our collective resolve to support an open and prosperous Indo-Pacific”, she said.
There was no immediate word from China on the Malabar exercises.
India holds the annual drills with the US and Japanese navies each year as part of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue.
India agreed to invite Australia for next month’s exercise in the Bay of Bengal, it said, in a sign of cooperation.
“As India seeks to increase cooperation with other countries in the maritime security domain and in the light of increased defence cooperation with Australia, Malabar 2020 will see the participation of the Australian navy,” the defence ministry said in a statement.
The ABC cited defence sources that suggested a warship such as HMAS Hobart or HMAS Brisbane would likely be deployed to Exercise Malabar.
China has previously denounced the Quad as an attempt to contain its development.
In a joint statement on Monday night, Senator Reynolds and Japanese defence minister Kishi Nabuo said their nations would continue to coordinate closely on the security situation in the South China Sea.
They affirmed the importance of upholding freedom of navigation and overflight.
Without naming China they reaffirmed their “serious concern” about the militarisation of disputed islands and reefs, “dangerous or coercive use” of coast guard vessels and “maritime militia” and efforts to disrupt other countries’ resource exploitation activities.
“The ministers reinforced their strong opposition to any attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by coercion in the South China Sea,” their statement said.
India’s decision on expanding the Malabar exercises comes at a time when it is locked in a military stand-off on the disputed land border with China.
Thousands of troops are in close proximity in the western Himalayas, where India says Chinese troops have intruded deep across its side of the de facto border.
Officials in Beijing deny any intrusion and say India has been building roads and other infrastructure in the disputed area causing the crisis.