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, signalling the country’s intent to play a bigger role in regional efforts to counter China.
The Indian military has traditionally been wary of antagonising Beijing but the mood has hardened following clashes between troops on the disputed land border last year, Reuters reports.
The government has since drawn closer to the US in efforts to push back against China.
The Act East Policy was set in motion by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014. It focuses on expanding India’s relationships with countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
Four ships including a guided missile destroyer and a missile frigate will be deployed for a two-month period to Southeast Asia, the South China Sea and the western Pacific, the navy said in a statement.
“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,” the navy said.
The South China Sea has become one of many flashpoints in the testy relationship between China and the US, with Washington rejecting what it calls unlawful territorial claims by Beijing in the resource-rich waters.
In June, a US aircraft carrier group led by the USS Ronald Reagan entered the South China Sea as part of a routine mission, and a British carrier group led by HMS Queen Elizabeth is due to undertake exercises in the Philippine Sea this month.
As part of their deployment, the Indian ships will take part in annual joint war drills involving the US, Japan and Australia off the coast of Guam, the navy said.
The four countries make up the Quad, an informal group that US President Joe Biden’s administration is promoting as a way to counter an assertive China.
“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 said in its statement.
China has in the past criticised multilateral military manoeuvres as destabilising to the region.