India joins U.S. and Pacific allies to show force in Chinese contested waters

May 9, 2019

The Indian Navy has joined warships from the U.S., Japan and and the Philippines in a weeklong show of naval power against China, steaming an international armada through contested waterways in the South China Sea claimed by Beijing.

U.S. Navy officials said Thursday that Delhi deployed a Kolkata-class destroyer and a Deepak-class fleet tanker alongside the Izumo-class Japanese aircraft carrier, a Philippine-flagged combat patrol boat and the U.S.S. William P. Lawrence — an Arleigh Burke-class U.S. guided missile destroyer — for the joint naval drills near an island chain claimed by Beijing.

While Manila, Tokyo and Washington routinely conduct such operations to counter China’s military buildup in the region, India has previously stayed on the sidelines.

The current weeklong naval exercise began days after a pair of American warships deployed near the contested island chain, in a so-called Freedom of Navigation operation.

“Professional engagements with our allies, partners and friends in the region are opportunities to build upon our existing, strong relationships,” Navy Cmdr. Andrew Klug, the USS Lawrence’s commanding officer, said in a statement Thursday.

“The opportunity of a multi-sail with U.S. Navy and regional partners was a great experience. In addition to building mutual understanding and trust, it also served as a way to enhance peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region,” Japanese Rear Adm. Hiroshi Egawa, commander of the Japanese Escort Flotilla 1, said in the same Navy statement.

The U.S. and its allies have maintained the right to operate in international waters in the South China Sea and elsewhere, despite Chinese territorial claims and Beijing’s military efforts to enforce the claims.

China has repeatedly argued that it is not contesting freedom of navigation through the waterways of the South China Sea, or or overflight across its airspace.