The Indian navy last week sent a warship to hold joint exercises with Vietnamese warships to assert navigation rights on the South China Sea as both countries try to boost maritime cooperation amid rising border disputes with China, reports the Deccan Herald.
The INS Kiltan, an anti-submarine corvette, took part in a two-day passage exercise with the Vietnamese navy after it arrived at Ho Chi Minh City to deliver humanitarian assistance for those affected by typhoon floods in central Vietnam.
The Indian navy’s assertion of navigation rights is along the lines of the Freedom of Navigation patrols that the US navy regularly performs in the South China Sea to challenge Chinese territorial claims.
Beijing, which has made expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea and militarised islands there, has watched the exercises with a wary eye.
Liu Zongyi of the Shanghai Institute of International Studies (SIIS) wrote in the state-sponsored China Military Online that the joint operation is a bid by India to exert pressure on China through the South China Sea, to force it to back off from eastern Ladakh.
The Indian and Chinese militaries are locked in a stand-off in the Himalayan border region of Ladakh after Chinese soldiers intruded into territory claimed by both countries. A border clash in Galwan in June killed about 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of Chinese soldiers.
Both nations have stationed thousands of troops in the freezing heights and have dug in for the long haul, recent media reports have said.
Zongyi added that India’s recent strengthening of military cooperation with Vietnam and Indonesia and building of military facilities near the Melaka Strait was with an “important purpose of guarding against China, even throttling its development”.
Vietnam also has maritime disputes with China in the South China Sea region.
China claims sovereignty over the region and its vast reserves of oil and gas, but Vietnam has made counterclaims, along with other littoral states like Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.