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Act East Policy: India to hold naval exercises to counter China threat

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By NewsGram Staff Writer

India will hold a flurry of bilateral naval exercises over the coming months with countries in the critical Asia Pacific region. Australia, Japan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar and Singapore will be working with Indian Navy for the exercise.

Interspersed with them will be exercises with the US (Malabar), UK (Konkan) and Russia (Indra), with the one with France (Varuna) already being held in Arabian Sea in April-May.

India has “so far” kept Japan out of the initial planning for the 19th Indo-US Malabar naval combat exercise to be held in Bay of Bengal in October.

This despite the Modi-Obama summits in September and January agreeing “to upgrade” the annual war-games, and both Japan and Australia keen to hop on to the bandwagon.

“The previous UPA regime largely restricted the Malabar exercise to a bilateral one after China protested against its 2007 edition in Bay of Bengal especially since they were expanded to include the Japanese, Australian and Singaporean navies as well”, a TOI report said.

Since then, Japan has been co-opted only when the Malabar was held in the north-western Pacific in 2009 and 2014.

Indian and Thai warships will hold their coordinated patrolling along their international maritime boundary line anytime during late October to early November. This will be followed by a similar exercise with Myanmar in February-March next year.

Interestingly, around the same time, the Bay of Bengal will be the venue for India’s first-ever IN-RAN naval exercise with Australia from October 30 to November 4 as well as the JIMEX exercise with Japan thereafter in mid-November.

To counter China’s huge strategic inroads in the Indian Ocean region and beyond, India is steadily building maritime bridges with other countries in the region.

Four Indian warships, for instance, are currently on a long overseas deployment to South Indian Ocean and South China Sea in consonance with the “Act East” policy.

The 2015-2020 bilateral defence cooperation with Vietnam through a new “joint vision statement” will also be cranked up.

India is already training Vietnamese personnel on Kilo-class submarines and now proposes to do the same for Sukhoi fighter jets.

India remains deeply suspicious of Beijing’s expanding military might and assertiveness in Asia-Pacific, much like Vietnam, Japan, the Philippines and others locked in territorial disputes with China in the East and South China Seas.

China, on its part, has also vowed to increase its “open seas protection” in tune with its expanding long-range deployments of nuclear submarines, destroyers and frigates far away from its shores.

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China-ASEAN Naval Exercise Hopes to Build Rapport Among Rivals

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China's frigate Huangshan is seen anchored in the waters off RSS Singapura Changi Naval Base
China's frigate Huangshan is seen anchored in the waters off RSS Singapura Changi Naval Base, May 15, 2017, in Singapore. China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will engage in naval exercises next year. VOA

 proposed for next year will ease a stalemated dispute over the South China Sea by letting adversaries meet one another’s front-line personnel and work on common issues, experts in the region say.

Singapore’s Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen and his Chinese counterpart Chang Wanquan agreed Monday to plan for the first maritime exercise with ships from China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Singaporean defense ministry said on its website. Singapore will lead the association next year.

Beijing has angered four Southeast Asian states by expanding its coast guard and military presence in the South China Sea, a 3.5 million-square-kilometer tract of water rich in fisheries and fuel reserves. Claims by Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines overlap that of China, which calls nearly the whole sea its own.

China-ASEAN Naval Exercise would break down suspicion by letting naval personnel meet one another, said Termsak Chalermpalanupap, political and security affairs fellow with the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. Foreign ministries, he added, would be in charge of handling disputes.

“I think it’s good to have the joint exercise,” Chalermpalanupap said. “At least interpersonal contact, that will be important.”

Nonpolitical focus

Joint exercises will be especially welcomed if they cover search and rescue work or efforts to stop piracy at sea, said Oh Ei Sun, international studies instructor at Singapore Nanyang University. The countries must avoid politics to ensure the success of any maneuvers, he said.

“They would have to really focus on the exercise at hand and all sides should not try to in any way, shall we say, proclaim sovereignty during the exercise,” Oh said.

China began to expand in the sea in 2010 by reclaiming land to build artificial islands, some apparently for military use. It’s ready to deploy radar systems and fighter jets on some, according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative under American think tank Center for Strategic & International Studies.

China’s coast guard ships, oil rigs and unilateral fishing bans in disputed waters have further riled Southeast Asian countries.(VOA)

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End of Doklam Standoff with China Satisfies India, but It Will Not Weaken its Shield

For India, the lesson is that even though the standoff has been resolved, future flare-ups cannot be ruled out

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Doklam Standoff
In this Oct. 16, 2016 file photo, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the signing ceremony by foreign ministers during the BRICS summit in Goa, India. China and India may have ended a tense border standoff for now, but their longstanding rivalry raises questions about the possibility of meaningful cooperation at the annual summit of the BRICS grouping encompassing Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. VOA
  • China has abandoned plans to construct road on the high mountain junction lying between India, Bhutan, and China calling for the end of Doklam standoff
  • Indian officials maintain that China has withdrawn its bulldozers and road construction equipment
  • India will be even more vigilant in the months and years to come, not just in Doklam but in the several other sectors as well

Aug 31, 2017: As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels to China for a summit of emerging nations starting Sunday, there is a sense of quiet satisfaction in New Delhi at the resolution of their most serious border confrontation in decades in a disputed Himalayan plateau.

Strategic road

For now it appears China has abandoned plans to build a contentious road on the high mountain junction lying between India, Bhutan and China that sparked the standoff between the two countries.

Indian officials maintain that China has withdrawn its bulldozers and road construction equipment.

Map shows border disputes between China and India.

Map shows border disputes between China and India

Beijing has sidestepped the issue, with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying saying it will take into consideration factors such as weather “to make relevant construction plans in accordance with the situation on the ground.”

Also Read: Japan comes Out in Full Support for India in its 2-month Long Military Standoff with China at Doklam 

It was in mid-June that Indian troops moved into the Doklam Plateau to obstruct China from building a road in the Himalayan junction disputed between Bhutan and Beijing. That led an infuriated China to accuse Indian troops of trespassing into territory to which it had no claim and demand their withdrawal.

India in turn said the status quo should be restored. It says that has happened as soldiers from both sides have pulled back.

China has announced that its troops will patrol the region, but New Delhi says that happened in the past also.

Stronger India

Strategic experts say India scored by standing its ground for 2½ months despite the strident rhetoric from its powerful neighbor about the prospect of a full-blown conflict if Indian troops did not withdraw from Doklam.

“For the first time, I think the Indian government held its nerve in a crisis. Delhi in particular is known to lose its nerve, and that has not happened,” said strategic analyst Bharat Karnad at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi.

Although Doklam is disputed between Bhutan and India, Indian troops moved in swiftly to stop the construction because the area serves as a buffer that keeps China away from a strategic strip of territory that connects India to its northeast.

FILE - Exile Tibetans shout slogans during a protest to show support with India on Doklam standoff in New Delhi, India, Aug. 11, 2017.
FILE – Exile Tibetans shout slogans during a protest to show support with India on Doklam standoff in New Delhi, India, Aug. 11, 2017. VOA

Lingering bad feelings

But although the crisis has been defused, it has further frayed ties and has deepened mistrust between the Asian giants, analysts say.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said Wednesday that New Delhi should learn lessons from Doklam and prevent similar incidents from happening again.

For India, the lesson is that even though the standoff has been resolved, future flare-ups cannot be ruled out.

“The problem is essentially the aggressive stance that China has adopted on all territorial matters with all countries and here the manner in which it has tried to alter the status quo on the ground by building this road, which we have stopped,” said Jayadeva Ranade, a former China specialist at the Indian government’s National Security Advisory Board. He warned that they might repeat Doklam next year or try something else.

Lessons learned

Indeed, India will be even more vigilant in the months and years to come, not just in Doklam but in the several other sectors along their 3,500 kilometer Himalayan boundary that remains disputed despite decades-long negotiations. That was underlined by India’s army chief, Bipin Rawat, just a day before the formal announcement of the agreement.

“My message to my people is that remain prepared, it can happen again, and therefore do not let your guard down,” he said.

However for the time being there is a sense of relief that the crisis is over, especially because the spat had pulled in Bhutan, India’s tiny neighbor, which feared being caught in the middle of the two huge Asian countries and whose ties with India might have been jeopardized had the conflict flared.

Commentators say the resolution of the dispute also sent a message to other countries that China is not unchallengeable.

Countries embroiled in disputes with China in the South China Sea and elsewhere can look at this crisis as a case study on how to avoid escalation with the Asian giant while sticking to their position, according to Michael Kugelman, South Asia’s deputy director at the Wilson Center in Washington.

“The fact that India stood its ground before eventually fashioning a resolution is something that many other countries will take notice of and try to learn lessons from,” he said.

The forthcoming BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit in China might have played a role, according to several reports. New Delhi had refused to confirm Modi’s attendance at the meeting until the crisis was resolved. As he leaves this weekend, India feels it has sent a message that it reached an equitable agreement with China, but their recent tensions may well loom over the meeting. (VOA)

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After Threat of Rift, Philippines Looks to Reset Ties With China

Just months after pledging on the campaign trail to sail a jet ski into the South China Sea to defend Manila’s territorial sea claims, the Philippines leader has threatened to cut relations with the United States.

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Picture of China and Philippines officials in a meeting. Wikimedia Commons

A visit by the Philippine’s recently elected, and feisty, President Rodrigo Duterte to China this week is being watched closely for signs of a shift in ties between the two countries, which have been battered for years over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Until recently, China was the Philippines biggest security threat. Relations hit rock bottom, following an international tribunal ruling in July in Manila’s favor, rejecting Beijing’s claim to almost all of the disputed waters.

But now, just months after pledging on the campaign trail to sail a jet ski into the South China Sea to defend Manila’s territorial sea claims, (something Duterte now tells Al Jazeera was just election hyperbole) the Philippines leader has threatened to cut relations with the United States.

He has also suggested that he might start courting China and Russia instead.

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No small task

But getting Beijing and Manila on track after years of tensions is no small task, analysts say.

Duterte is traveling to China with a group of more than 200 businessmen and boosting economic ties between the two countries is a key priority of the visit, says Aileen Baviera, a professor at the University of the Philippines’ Asian Center.

FILE - Protesters rally outside of the Chinese Consulate in Manila, Philippines, June 10, 2016. Relations between China and the Philippines have been strained following an international court's ruling in July in Manila’s favor, rejecting Beijing’s claims to large parts of the South China Sea.
Protesters rally outside of the Chinese Consulate in Manila, Philippines, June 10, 2016. Relations between China and the Philippines have been strained following an international court’s ruling in July in Manila’s favor, rejecting Beijing’s claims to large parts of the South China Sea.

“As far as the new Philippine government is concerned there is strong interest in placing emphasis on economic relations to get more trade, investment and participate in China’s infrastructure development programs,” Baviera says, adding that is something the two have not done in a long while.

Japan is the Philippines biggest trade partner, but Hong Kong is not far behind Tokyo in the lineup. Manila is looking for China’s help to build up its railway system and guarantees for its workers overseas.

Fishermen in the Philippines who have been kept from trolling parts of the South China Sea because of territorial disputes hope the visit will help them regain access to fish, while the two sides talk.

Baviera says that while it is unlikely they’ll be able to reset that issue during the visit, talking could help pave the way to new approaches and new initiatives.

President Duterte says he will not give any ground when it comes to the Philippines’ sovereignty in the South China Sea, but also notes he will not be inflexible.

“We will stick to our claim, we do not bargain anything there. We continue to insist that that’s ours and that the tribunal, the international decision will be taken up,” he says. “But there will be no hard impositions. We will talk and maybe paraphrase everything in the judgment and set the limits of our territories.”

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A Filippino fisherman removes tow ropes of his boat before heading out into the South China Sea, in Masinloc, Philippines, Nov. 8, 2015. Fishermen in the Philippines hope Duterte's visit to China will help them regain access to disputed waters.
A Filippino fisherman removes tow ropes of his boat before heading out into the South China Sea, in Masinloc, Philippines, Nov. 8, 2015. Fishermen in the Philippines hope Duterte’s visit to China will help them regain access to disputed waters.

China as savior

While the two countries still remain divided over that issue, they are finding other areas of common ground.

Duterte has lashed out at the United States and the European Union over their criticism of his controversial war on drugs. Beijing has offered to help in the effort and has invested in the construction of a drug rehab center.

China’s Foreign Ministry says that during Duterte’s visit this week, he will participate in anti-narcotics activities and both countries’ anti-narcotics departments have begun to explore cooperation.

From the economy to the war on drugs Beijing is portraying itself as the Philippines’ savior. Duterte has not been shy about how much he apparently needs China as well.

The headline for an interview between Duterte and China’s state-run Xinhua News agency quotes him as saying, “Only China can help us.” In the interview, he says that in addition to loans and Beijing’s help in building up its railways and economic cooperation is more important that talking about disputes.

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“War is not an option,” he was quoted as saying.

Beijing too is expecting some deliverables.

An opinion piece published Monday in the party-backed Global Times was cautiously optimistic about the visit, noting that differences were too great to be resolved in just one visit.

“The significance of Duterte’s visit will depend on whether any specific deals will be inked in the days to come,” the article says. “As long as there are agreements between the two sides, big or small, they might bring about a turning point in Sino-Philippine relations.” (VOA)