China’s maritime militia changed the course of some of its vessels and sailed closer to the navies of India and some ASEAN nations conducting Naval drills in the South China Sea. Reports say that Chinese boats did not disrupt the exercises which were the first of their kind between India and the Southeast Asian group. This could be seen as an attempt by China to disturb the India-ASEAN drill.
The week-long ASEAN-India Maritime Exercise, which included nine ships, six aircraft, and more than 1,800 participants from all the member countries, was co-hosted by Singapore and India. They were expected to explore the international waters while staying on the transit route to the Philippines.
Naval ships and aircraft from India, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Brunei took part in the two-day sea phase of the ASEAN-India Maritime Exercise (AIME 2023) on Sunday. The Chinese boats approached them as they were in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Vietnam.
While this was going on, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) maritime militia was being closely watched by India and the South East Asian countries.
The South China Sea is seen as a possible flashpoint for a major conflict. Beijing claims most of it under itself declared 9-dash line. Other countries also claim parts of it. The two drills ended on Monday. As relations between China and the US struggle to find a footing, concerns over national security in the Asia-Pacific region are growing as nations seek to fortify their defenses.
Last month, as the Southeast Asian country was taking part in military drills with the US, Chinese and Philippine ships came dangerously close to colliding in the South China Sea. One of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, the South China Sea, through which almost a third of the world’s maritime crude oil trade passes, is claimed by China to the tune of more than 80%. China’s claims had been rejected by a Hague-based arbitral tribunal’s 2016 decision.
India-ASEAN Strategic importance
These exercises between India and ASEAN were waiting to happen because the former has already been holding these bilateral exercises with a lot of Southeast Asian countries including Vietnam and the Philippines.
These exercises are mostly a way for India to express its displeasure at Beijing because relations between India and China have not been so good over the past few years. Therefore, these exercises in the South China Sea are very important from the viewpoint of the national interest of India. India has over 55% of its trade passage from the South China Sea.
It is important for India to keep its trade routes clear and free of threats of any kind, traditional or not traditional. This is only a coincidence to say that India-China relationships are not at their best of times right now. However, at the same time, India is taking its relationship with the Southeast Asian countries seriously. Keeping in mind the mutual interest of both these entities, it is essential to conduct these exercises so as to secure and safeguard the sea lines of communication in the South China Sea.