India has decided to send the naval stealth frigate INS Shivalik to participate in an international fleet review and maritime exercise hosted by the Chinese Navy on April 23 - an exercise that has acquired particular diplomatic significance with the United States declining to join the review after Japan was excluded from the event.
China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy is hosting the review and exercise in the northeastern port of Qingdao, the headquarters of its North Sea fleet, as it prepares to mark its 65th anniversary with great fanfare. Chinese President Xi Jinping is also expected to presided over the celebrations.
The international fleet review and exercises on April 23 and 24 have, however, acquired diplomatic colour after the PLA Navy declined to invite Japan.
At least 10 countries have so far confirmed their participation in the fleet review and exercise, including India, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, Indonesia and Pakistan, according to a provisional list.
With India and Pakistan taking part, the review and exercise will also provide a rare instance of both countries jointly taking part in a naval exercise.
The fleet review and maritime exercise will take place along with the annual meeting of the Western Pacific Naval Symposium (WPNS) – a U.S.-established grouping of 20 countries, including Australia, Canada, Russia, Japan, South Korea and China, and three observers - India, Bangladesh and Mexico.
China invited Japan's Navy chief to attend the WPNS, but the PLAN decided to exclude Japan from the international fleet review and exercise, to which a number of other countries were invited.
Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said last week it was "unforutnate that China took such an approach", with the moves following rising tensions over disputed East China Sea islands.
The U.S., which initially stayed clear of the dispute, has recently voiced backing for its ally Japan, with Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel calling on China to refrain from "intimidating" its neighbours during his visit to Tokyo this week, which was followed by a trip to Beijing.
By pulling out of the fleet review and exercise, the U.S. has signalled its support to Japan, although both countries will attend the WPNS.
China also conveyed its desire for India's Navy chief to attend the event. But with the resignation of Navy Chief D.K. Joshi a month ago and a successor as yet unappointed, the Navy will send a "fairly high-ranking" delegation, sources said.
The Indian Embassy in Beijing said in a statement the visit by INS Shivalik "highlights the friendly exchanges and bilateral defence cooperation" between India and China. The ship will be open to public visits on April 22, the Embassy said.