China on Friday kicked off five-day-long naval drills in the disputed South China Sea, setting up a vast navigation restriction zone amid the all-domain military exercises being conducted by the US in the Indo-Pacific region along with Britain, Australia and Japan, the first of its kind in more than four decades.
The Indian Navy is also deploying a naval task group comprising four frontline warships to the South China Sea (SCS) Western Pacific and South East Asia for over two months beginning early August, in a significant move aimed at enhancing its profile in the strategically key sea lanes.
In the course of their deployment, the Indian ships will participate in the next edition of the Malabar exercise alongside the Quad allied navies of Japan, Australia, the US, in the Western Pacific, Indian Navy spokesperson Commander Vivek Madhwal said on August 2.
About the drills by Quad countries, Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday that, ‘China hopes that the warships of relevant countries will earnestly abide by international law, respect the sovereignty, rights and interests of countries along the South China Sea and avoid harming regional peace and stability”.
A notice released by the Maritime Safety Administration early this week said China will hold military training in the SCS from Friday to Tuesday, and other vessels are prohibited from entering the navigation restriction zone.
The coordinates provided in the notice show that the exclusion zone stretches from waters off the southeast of Hainan Island to a majority of waters around the Paracel islands which China claims as Xisha islands, the National Defence Newspaper reported on Thursday.
The Paracel islands in the South China Sea are also claimed by Vietnam.
China claims most of the South China Sea. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have counterclaims.
The US has been periodically sending its naval and air patrols through the South China Sea, challenging China’s claims of sovereignty over the area and also asserting the freedom of navigation.
The US Indo-Pacific Command exercises began on Monday and will run until August 27. They involve the first large-scale naval and amphibious drills since America’s Ocean Venture exercises in 1981 with allies including the NATO nations during a new height in the Cold War, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.
A British aircraft carrier strike group led by the HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier sailed through South China Sea on Monday, with a German warship, the Bayern frigate, on the same day.
The US drills will signal to competitors that the American military “remains ready at the high end of warfare expressly because of its global operational commitments”, according to the US Navy.
Separately, militaries of China and Russia will hold joint drills from August 13 in the Qingtongxia Combined Arms Tactical Training Base in Northwest China”s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.
The drills will feature more than 10,000 personnel, multiple types of aircraft, artillery pieces, and armoured equipment with the aim of testing joint reconnaissance, early warning, electronic information attack and strike capabilities, the Global Times reported.
Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator told the Global Times that the People”s Liberation Army (PLA) is advocating the concept of joint operations featuring multiple military services, which could include the PLA Rocket Force, and another live-fire anti-ship ballistic missile exercise is possible this year.
If not, the exercise would likely feature joint maritime and aerial forces, Song said.