India to deploy naval task force to South China Sea and beyond


The warships will leave India earlier this month, the Defense Ministry statement said, without giving a specific departure date.

The task force, which includes a guided missile destroyer, a guided missile frigate, an anti-submarine corvette and a missile corvette, will participate in a series of exercises during the two-month deployment, including Malabar 2021 naval exercises with the United States, Japan and Australian forces.

In other bilateral exercises while deployed, Indian warships will work with naval units from South China Sea riparian states, including Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines, the Defense Ministry said. .

“These maritime initiatives strengthen the synergy and coordination between the Indian Navy and friendly countries, based on common maritime interests and a commitment to freedom of navigation at sea,” the Indian statement said.

The South China Sea has become a hotbed of naval activity in recent weeks. Last week, a British aircraft carrier strike group crossed the 1.3 million square mile waterway, while a US Surface Action Group and People’s Liberation Army forces China held exercises there.

Beijing claims nearly all of the South China Sea as its sovereign territory, turning numerous reefs and obscure sandbars along the waterway into man-made islands heavily fortified with missiles, tracks, and air systems. weapons.

Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore specializing in naval affairs, said the Indian deployment, of which he said a version is carried out every year, is “the most visible naval presence of India east of the Straits of Malacca. “

But Koh said he did not expect the Indian ships to be confrontational or undertake freedom of navigation operations near the islands claimed by China in the South China Sea.

“The mere presence of the ships in the South China Sea, even if outside the 12 (nautical mile) limit of each element occupied by China, would have been sufficient to meet New Delhi’s strategic objectives of signaling its intention to remain engaged in the Western Pacific, ”Koh said.

Probable reaction

China regularly denounces the presence of foreign naval forces in the South China Sea. Prior to the recent deployment of the British Carrier Strike Group, Chinese state media accused the UK of attempting to relive the “glory days of the British Empire” while trying to stir up trouble at the behest of the United States. United.

Since taking office, US President Joe Biden has focused on Asia, positioning it as the foundation of his foreign policy agenda. The Biden administration has welcomed the presence of allies and democratic partners in the region, amid efforts to counter Beijing.

Speaking during a visit to Singapore last month, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stressed the importance of increased cooperation. “I am especially encouraged to see our friends forging stronger security bonds with each other, further strengthening the range of partnerships that keep aggression at bay,” Austin said.

India’s statement on the deployment of four warships echoed the US defense chief.

“In addition to the regular port calls, the task group will operate in collaboration with friendly navies, to establish military relations and develop interoperability in the conduct of maritime operations,” he said.

Relations between India and China collapsed last year after a deadly clash between ground troops from the two neighbors in disputed territory in the Himalayas.

At least 20 Indian soldiers and four Chinese soldiers were killed in close combat.
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Since the incident, India has sought to reaffirm its ties to the Quad, an informal security relationship between the United States, Japan, India and Australia.

After a virtual summit of the leaders of these countries in March, the four wrote an opinion column in the Washington Post.

The alliance said it was trying to “ensure that the Indo-Pacific is accessible and vibrant, governed by international law and fundamental principles such as freedom of navigation and the peaceful settlement of disputes, and that all countries are able to make their own political choices, free from any coercion, ”he said.

Monday’s Indian statement addressed these themes.

“The deployment of Indian Navy ships aims to underline the operational reach, peaceful presence and solidarity with friendly countries with a view to ensuring good order in the maritime domain and strengthening the existing ties between India and the Indo-Pacific countries, ”he said.


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