Tensions in the East are not only high on the Korean Peninsula, as India and China continue a staring contest that has manifested itself most recently as a border dispute in the Doklam area between their two nations. U.S. military activity in the South China Sea recently could also be seen as a direct affront to Chinese claims of sovereignty over the majority of the waterway, which means China is currently involved in not one, but three separate and potentially dangerous, arguably deteriorating, situations in the region.
Public statements issued by American President Donald Trump have demonstrated not only a seeming willingness to work with Chinese President Xi Jinping on reducing the threat presented by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, but even a level of disappointment that China hasn’t been willing to do more in aiding the effort to avoid military conflict. China, for their part, has continued to call on North Korea’s denuclearization, while refusing to utilize its considerable economic and diplomatic leverage to bring about any real change. Another important facet of their strategy would seem to be undermining the U.S. strategy of military deterrence, as they continue to publicly chastise the United States and its allies for conducting military exercises in the region.
With all of this in mind, it stands to reason that China will be paying particularly close attention to the large-scale military exercises currently being conducted in the Pacific – exercises that see participation from the United States, Japan, and India.
“Malabar 2017” is the largest maritime military exercise held in the region since the United States and India launched their first joint Malabar exercise in 1992, and includes both ashore and at-sea training for military units from each nation. The U.S. Nimitz class super carrier’s namesake, the USS Nimitz, was joined on Monday by India’s lone carrier, the Vikramaditya, and Japan’s biggest warship, the helicopter carrier Izumo. These three massive vessels, along with accompanying battle groups and escort ships, are tasked with improving their ability to cooperate in a combat situation.
Indian, Japanese and U.S. maritime forces have a common understanding and knowledge of a shared working environment at sea. Each iteration of this exercise helps to advance the level of understanding between our Sailors, and we hope to be able to continue this process over time. As members of Indo-Asia-Pacific nations, our maritime forces are natural partners, and we look forward to continuing to strengthen our bonds and personal relationships.” U.S. Pacific Command explained in a press release.
PACOM does not mention China anywhere in their statement, but it seems likely that these exercises are being conducted with China set squarely in these ship’s sights. More than a dozen Chinese military vessels, including submarines, have been spotted in the Indian Ocean in the past two months alone, according to local media outlets. China even began docking submarines in Sri Lanka earlier this year, an area India has long considered to be a part of its own “backyard.”
China has also launched as many as 18 new military ships into the Pacific over the last year, including new classes of destroyer and carrier currently undergoing testing.
“Naval co-operation between India, US and Japan epitomizes the strong and resilient relationship between the three democracies,” India’s defense ministry said in a statement.
Australia also requested to take part in the large naval drills, but India declined to include them so as not to “antagonize” China any further.
Image courtesy of the Department of Defense