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India resumes joint military exercises after Covid postponements

India resumes joint military exercises after Covid postponements

The Indian and US navies conducted a joint military exercise in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) on Monday. The joint exercise happened as the United States’ Carrier Strike Group (CSG) had completed its deployment in the South China Sea and was passing through the IOR.

The naval exercise follows talks between Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper earlier in July about resuming joint military exercises between their militaries. The two had discussed strengthening India-US military ties and the resumption of exercises, which had been postponed due to the outbreak of Covid-19.

The Indo-US navy exercise comes at a time when China has been trying to encroach upon India's northern border and had launched a brutal assault on Indian soldiers on June 15. India had lost 20 soldiers including officers and China too reportedly suffered casualties of between 35-46 soldiers including officers. The stand-off between the two armies continues on the Indian border.

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This exercise with the US in the IOR followed one between the Indian and Japanese navies just three weeks back. This was the 15th Indo-Japanese naval exercise in the past few years. Japanese Ambassador Satoshi Suzuki, who had publicly supported India over the Galwan Valley incident, tweeted: “On 27th June, Japan Maritime Self Defense Force conducted goodwill training with Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean.” Japan too has been facing violations of its territorial integrity as Chinese vessels venture in the Japanese Senkaku Islands.

The Indian Navy has been on high alert after Chinese belligerence in Ladakh. These two naval exercises are significant because both Japan and the US are part of Quad with India, which seeks to build a deterrent to Chinese presence on the high seas.

Significantly, it is being reported that India plans to invite Australia for the annual Malabar naval exercise with Japan and the US in the Bay of Bengal. Earlier, it had been shying from inviting Australia, partly to avoid Chinese displeasure. If Australia joins, the Quad grouping will bring the navies of all four members—India, USA, Japan and Australia—together for the first time at the Malabar exercises, which are likely to be held by the end of 2020.

With China proving itself as unreliable and hostile, India is cementing strategic and military relations with other countries.

India had earlier postponed one of its biggest multilateral exercise, MILAN 2020, with the navies of 30 countries at Vishakhapatnam. This biennial event, held since 1995 at the Andaman and Nicobar Command, for which India had invited 41 navies, got postponed due to coronavirus fears.

Similarly, Australia cancelled its multilateral air combat training exercise 'Pitch Black 2020' for which it had invited the Indian Air Force (IAF). In the previous edition of Pitch Black held in 2018, the IAF had interacted with the air force of Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia as well.

The pandemic had forced South Korea and the US to postpone their joint military exercises—computer-simulated combined command post training in March.

Even the Philippines had to cancel its biggest annual joint military exercise, 'Balikatan 2020,' with the US. The two countries were earlier planning to involve up to 10,000 troops in the exercise with participation from Australia.

Ironically, while the spread of coronavirus forced countries to postpone their military exercises, the Chinese aggression under the cover of the pandemic on all its land and sea borders is pushing countries including India to consolidate military alliances and hold joint exercises..