India and Australia will conduct their first ever bilateral war games in September with an eye on China. Chinese authorities said it is unperturbed but claimed that the naval drill is part of a long-planned alliance with the U.S. and Japan to contain China over South China Sea dispute.
According to a report from Reuters, the India-Australia naval drill is primarily aimed at China. According to the report, India is rattled when China deployed two of its nuclear-powered submarines near its shore in 2014. Hence, the India-Australia naval drill to be held in Bay of Bengal will be primarily focused in improving anti-submarine warfare and coordinated anti-submarine drills. This was officially announced in a statement from the Australian High Commission in Delhi obtained by Reuters.
“India knows that it needs to build up its capacity in submarines and particularly anti-submarine warfare. It’s an area where both (India and Australia) can learn a lot from each other,” David Brewster, a security expert at the Australian National University, told Reuters. He added that China’s deployment of two submarines served as a “wake-up” call for India to realize that it needs to strengthen its bilateral relations with other navies.
According to a related report from Bloomberg, India will deploy its Boeing Co.’s P-8 long-range anti-submarine aircraft and a Corvette, along with four of its ships. Australia, on the other hand, will deploy Lockheed Martin Corp.’s P-3 anti-submarine reconnaissance aircraft, a Collins submarine, tanker and frigates.
The Indian Ocean has the “potential for increased security tensions,” Captain Sheldon Williams, defense adviser at the Australian High Commission in New Delhi, told Bloomberg. He added that Australia “sit right in the confluence of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.” Hence, the country has “a significant responsibility for its security.”
China, meanwhile, had reacted to the news saying that India “has overacted” about its submarines deployment near its shores in 2014. “India overlooked the fact that China’s interests in the Indian Ocean are mostly economic, but not necessarily military,” Jiang Jingkui, director of the Department of South Asian Languages at Peking University, was quoted as saying by Ecns.com, citing Global Times.
The reaction is in response specifically to the reports that India’s main motivation of joining the war games is China’s deployment of submarines. Ecns.com noted that Geng Yansheng, former spokesman for China’s Ministry of National Defense, explained that both submarines were just refueling and resupplying when they were spotted in the Gulf of Alden and off Somalia respectively.
Ecns.com reported that Chinese analysts deemed the India-Australia naval drill as a significant step to strengthen the alliance with U.S. and Japan to restrain China. In proof of which, India will also be participating in a separate war game with Japan and U.S. in October.
“The U.S., Australia and Japan have long attempted to forge an informal alliance with India to contain China in the Asia-Pacific,” Jiang said. The director however emphasized that “India appeared to have not responded enthusiastically given its economic cooperation with China.”
The U.S. however has a different view on this. Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet, said on Tuesday that China’s activities in South China Sea have created “angst” among countries in the region. “Many are turning to the United States as a continued guarantor of the stability they’ve enjoyed throughout the region, certainly for the last 70 years,” Swift was quoted as saying by VOA News.