At a time when India and China are locked in a major troop confrontation in eastern Ladakh, Indian and Japanese warships held a small exercise towards the Malacca Strait in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) on Saturday.
Indian warships patrolling the region, Rajput-class destroyer INS Rana and Kora-class missile corvette INS Kulish, took part in the exercise with JS Shimayuki and JS Kashima from the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force’s training squadron. Though it was “largely a PASSEX (passing exercise)”, it definitely amounts to some strategic signaling for China, said sources.
Three American aircraft carriers, USS Ronald Reagan, USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Nimitz, incidentally, are also currently deployed in the Pacific Ocean for the first time in recent years, in a move that has not gone down well with China. Japan has become a regular participant in the high-voltage “Malabar” naval combat exercise between India and the US since 2015, with the three countries being concerned about China’s aggressive muscle-flexing in the Indo-Pacific region, especially in the South China Sea. The exercise is slated to be held in the Bay of Bengal later this year.
Cranking up their bilateral military ties, India and Japan have also kicked off an annual joint land military exercise named “Dharma Guardian” since 2018. The two countries, after holding their first “two-plus-two” defence and foreign ministerial dialogue in November last year, are also now finalising a reciprocal military logistics pact to further strengthen their strategic partnership.
India has already inked such pacts with the US, France, South Korea, Singapore and Australia to extend its naval operational reach to counter China’s expanding footprint in the IOR, which is witnessing regular forays by PLA warships and submarines.
China had strongly objected to the India-US Malabar exercise in the Bay of Bengal in 2007 when it was expanded to include Japan, Australia and Singapore. India had then restricted Malabar to a bilateral one with the US for several years, including Japan only when the exercise was held in the north-western Pacific in 2009 and 2014, to avoid antagonising China.India