India and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) are holding joint exercises in the South China Sea for the first time as part of the inaugural Asean-India maritime exercise currently under way.
The sea phase of the exercise is set from May 7 to May 8, according to the Indian Navy. The harbor phase was held at Changi Naval Base in Singapore from May 2 to May 4.
The Philippine Navy has sent its missile frigate BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151) with 140 officers and crew to join the first maritime drills between India and the regional bloc in Singapore from May 2 to May 8.
The sea phase of the drills will be held in international waters “along the transit route to the Philippines,” according to the Singapore Navy. The same participants from the regional bloc are expected to take part in the Asean Multilateral Naval Exercise hosted by Manila this week.
The drills are being held against the backdrop of China’s increasing assertiveness in the region and renewed tensions with some Asean countries, including the Philippines over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
“These moves highlight how New Delhi seeks to signal its understanding of the challenges faced by its Southeast Asian neighbors and that it is willing to play a more proactive role in addressing them,” Don McLain Gill, director for South and Southeast Asia of the Philippine-Middle East Studies Association, told the Inquirer.
“In the past, India has shown reluctance in being explicit about the geopolitical challenges in the South China Sea; however, since 2014, India has taken a more formidable stance against China’s assertive maneuvers and adventurism in the disputed maritime territory at the expense of the sovereignty and sovereign rights of the Southeast Asian claimant countries,” he said.
The drills are also taking place against the backdrop of a deepening US-China rivalry, which could result in regional and global ramifications.
“Against the backdrop of Chinese assertion and the intensifying US-China competition, both sides recognize the value of spearheading cooperative approaches to ensure the stability and security of their shared Indo-Pacific region,” Gill said.
“India not only shares the concerns of Southeast Asian countries toward the direct and indirect challenges posed by an assertive China but also converges with their desire to move away from rigid bloc politics and focus on cooperation based on shared goals and interests,” he said.
The analyst said that the strengthening of strategic partnership between India and Southeast Asia “will be mutually beneficial at a time when the Indo-Pacific’s geopolitical architecture continues to experience turbulent shifts.”