The UK navy is to deploy a carrier group to the Indian Ocean next year, one of several European countries to announce such moves in recent times against the backdrop of China’s increasing belligerence towards its neighbours in Asia.

That the UK would send an aircraft carrier to the Indo-Pacific was disclosed after a phone conversation between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his British counterpart Boris Johnson last week.

This follows an announcement by Germany that it would send a warship to the Indian Ocean as part of plans to manage China’s influence in the region. It also comes in the wake of the Quad countries, India, the US, Japan and Australia, last month holding joint naval drills for the first time. Germany, the Netherlands and France have come out with their respective Indian Ocean strategies with the UK too aiming to formulate one.

In recent times, China has been seen as flexing its military muscles vis-a-vis most of its neighbours, including India, with whom it is engaged in a confrontation in Ladakh.

“The leaders discussed the work the UK and India are doing together across trade, climate change, defence, security and health. Prime Minister Johnson said 2021 would be a year to deepen and strengthen the UK-India relationship," said a readout by the UK government of the conversation that took place on Friday. “The Prime Minister re-emphasised the UK’s commitment to the wider Indo-Pacific region and looked forward to the first deployment of the HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier group to the region next year," it said.

The German announcement of warship deployment coincided with a visit to Berlin by foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, while Johnson’s comments followed the official’s visit to London.

In a speech in London last month, Shringla defined the Indo-Pacific as the “vast maritime space stretching from the western coast of North America to the eastern shores of Africa". India, he said, “not just mainstreamed the expression Indo-Pacific but, more substantially, encouraged others to perceive and define the region in its full extent".

Harsh Pant, an international relations professor at King’s College London, said India had done its bit to link western countries to the Indo-Pacific and put forth the idea that the Indo-Pacific is not a regional construct but a global issue. In recent times, there had been a broader European shift away from China and these moves by Germany and the UK are evidence of that shift, he said.

“In the past, the Indo-Pacific concept was seen as an Asian concept with Western Europe keeping a safe distance. Now, the gloves are off," he added.