The South China Sea is a major waterway and the sea lanes in this region account for over $5 trillion of international trade

India is sending its warships to the South China Sea even as its soldiers remain engaged in a stand-off with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army along the disputed boundary between the two nations in the Himalayas.

A task force of the Eastern Fleet of the Indian Navy will soon proceed on an overseas deployment to South East Asia, the South China Sea and the Western Pacific for over two months. The task force comprising four Indian Navy warships will have bilateral drills with the navies of Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Australia and Indonesia, which all have maritime disputes with China. It will also sail to Western Pacific to take part in the ‘Malabar 21’, a multilateral drill by the navies of the ‘Quad’ – a coalition forged by India, Australia, Japan and the United States to counter the hegemonic aspirations of China in the Indo-Pacific region.

The Indian Navy task force will comprise its guided-missile destroyer ‘Ranvijay’, guided-missile frigate ‘Shivalik’, anti-submarine corvette ‘Kadmatt’ and guided-missile corvette ‘Kora’.

The ‘Shivalik’, ‘Kadmatt’ and ‘Kora’ are indigenously designed and ‘Made in India’ and equipped with a versatile array of weapons and sensors, according to a press release issued by the Indian Navy on Monday, adding that the warships were being sent to enhance “military cooperation with friendly countries” in the Indo-Pacific region in accordance with the ‘Act East’ policy of India. “The deployment of the Indian Navy ships seeks to underscore the operational reach, peaceful presence and solidarity with friendly countries towards ensuring good order in the maritime domain and to strengthen existing bonds between India and countries of the Indo-Pacific region.”

The South China Sea is a major waterway and the sea lanes in this region account for over $ 5 trillion of international trade. It has been at the centre of a territorial conflict between China and many of its maritime neighbours.

The Indian Navy stated that its warships undertook regular deployments to friendly foreign countries and Indian and the Pacific Ocean regions. “Such engagements build ‘Bridges of Friendship’ and strengthen international cooperation. These maritime initiatives enhance synergy and coordination between the Indian Navy and friendly countries, based on common maritime interests and commitment towards Freedom of Navigation at sea.”

The Indian Navy vessels have been holding joint drills with the US Navy’s warships returning from deployment in the South China Sea – more regularly since the Chinese PLA’s aggressive move to unilaterally change the status quo along the China-India Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh and counter-deployment by the Indian Army in April and May 2020 resulted in a stand-off.

India’s warships and fighter aircraft had last month a joint drill with the United States Navy’s Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group, which recently conducted “maritime security operations” in the South China Sea, riling up China. The Indian Navy ships had joint drills with the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group of the US Navy in the Indian Ocean in July 2020. The Indian Air Force’s aircraft joined the Indian Navy ships for another joint drill with the US Navy’s Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group on March 27 and 28 this year.