Amid tension between India and China over the Ladakh border dispute in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed in Galwan on June 15, the Indian Navy took part in military exercises with a US Navy battle group near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal.
The American flotilla, led by the USS Nimitz – a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier – and Indian ships carried out manoeuvres called PASSEX (passing exercise) to build upon years of trust between the two forces.
The Nimitz and the USS Ronald Reagan, another aircraft carrier, and four warships have been operating in the contested South China Sea region to assert freedom of navigation and provide a deterrent to China’s expansionist plans.
— Navy Chief of Information (@chinfo) October 11, 2019
“I can confirm that the USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan are conducting dual-carrier operations and exercises in the South China Sea to support a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Lt Cmdr. Sean Brophy, APR+M, Public Affairs Officer for the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group, told news agency ANI.
Earlier this month the Americans responded to an article by Global Times, a Chinese government mouthpiece, that appeared to warn the US of anti-aircraft carrier weapons.
“China has a wide selection of anti-aircraft carrier weapons like DF-21D and DF-26… The South China Sea is fully within grasp of the #PLA; any US #aircraft carrier movement in the region is at the pleasure of PLA: analysts,” the publication tweeted.
The US Navy said its aircraft carriers, which were “operating in the international waters of the South China Sea”, were unafraid.
And yet, there they are. Two @USNavy aircraft carriers operating in the international waters of the South China Sea. #USSNimitz & #USSRonaldReagan are not intimidated #AtOurDiscretion https://t.co/QGTggRjOul
— Navy Chief of Information (@chinfo) July 5, 2020
India, the United States and Japan are close naval partners in the region, with Australia likely to take part in the trilateral Malabar naval exercises in the future.
Indo-US naval exercises come as China conducts military drills of its own in the area, near the contested Paracel Islands; these exercises have been criticised by the US and other countries.
Tensions between India and China spiked after skirmishes in the Pangong Lake region of eastern Ladakh in May and escalated dramatically after 20 Indian soldiers were killed in the Galwan Valley region.
Following extensive high-level military talks between the two sides, a mutual disengagement was initiated, with both forces moving back two kilometres from the LAC (line of actual control).