India deploys warships in South China Sea under Act East policy



Chinese Navy personnel moor the Indian Navy warship INS Kolkata at the port of Qingdao for the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army (PLAN) Navy, in Qingdao, China, on April 21, 2019. REUTERS / Jason Lee / File Photo

NEW DELHI, Aug.4 (Reuters) – India is sending a naval task force to the South China Sea this month to expand security ties with friendly countries, officials said on Wednesday, signaling plans to play a greater role in regional efforts to counter China.

The Indian military has traditionally been wary of opposing China, but the mood has grown following clashes between troops on the disputed land border last year. The government has since moved closer to the United States in its efforts to push back China.

Four ships, including a guided-missile destroyer and a guided-missile frigate, will be deployed for a two-month period in Southeast Asia, the South China Sea and the Western Pacific, the navy said in a statement.

“The deployment of Indian Navy ships aims to emphasize the operational reach, peaceful presence and solidarity with friendly countries to ensure good order in the maritime domain …” the navy said.

The South China Sea has emerged as one of many hotspots in China’s difficult relationship with the United States, with Washington rejecting what it calls Beijing’s illegal territorial claims in the resource-rich waters.

In June, a US aircraft carrier group led by USS Ronald Reagan entered the South China Sea on a routine mission and a British aircraft carrier group is scheduled to undertake exercises in the Philippine Sea this this month.

As part of their deployment, the Indian ships will participate in annual joint warfare exercises involving the United States, Japan and Australia off Guam, the navy said.

The four countries form the Quad, an informal group that the administration of US President Joe Biden promotes as a way to counter an authoritarian China.

“These maritime initiatives strengthen synergy and coordination between the Indian Navy and friendly countries, based on common maritime interests and a commitment to freedom of navigation at sea,” the Indian Navy said in its statement.

China has in the past criticized multilateral military maneuvers as destabilizing for the region.

Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Kim Coghill

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