The Navy chiefs of India, Australia, Japan and the U.S., the four countries which comprise the Quadrilateral (Quad) grouping, met in Japan on November 5, 2022 and exchanged views on “further enhancing inter-operability” in future editions of the Malabar multilateral naval exercise. Meanwhile, in another development, a Chinese research vessel, ‘Yuan Wang-6’, entered the Indian Ocean via the Sunda Strait.
The meeting in Tokyo comes ahead of a series of multilateral engagements in the next couple of weeks to be hosted by Japan, including the naval war games. This year also marks 30 years of the Malabar exercise, which began as a bilateral exercise between India and the U.S. in 1992.
While the course of the Chinese vessel is not known, official sources said the Indian Navy is keeping a close tab on its movements. This comes just three months after a major diplomatic showdown between India and Sri Lanka over the docking of a similar vessel at the Hambantota Port in the island nation in August.
Earlier in the day, Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) Admiral R. Hari Kumar arrived on an official visit to Japan from November 5 to 9, where he will witness the International Fleet Review (IFR) conducted by the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force at Yokosuka on November 6 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of its formation, the Indian Navy said in a statement.
“During the visit, as one of the Observer Navies in the Western Pacific Naval Symposium (WPNS), the CNS will attend the 18th WPNS on November 07-08 at Yokohama, being hosted by Japan, as the current Chair of WPNS,” the Navy stated.
Further, Admiral Kumar will also attend the inauguration of the Malabar exercise being held at Yokosuka, and interact with his counterparts and other heads of delegations from close to 30 countries participating in the IFR, WPNS and the Malabar exercise, according to the Navy.
Indian Naval Ships Shivalik and Kamorta arrived at Yokosuka on November 2 to participate in the IFR and the Malabar exercise. “The presence of these indigenously built ships of the Indian Navy at these multi-national events will be an opportunity to showcase the ship-building capabilities of Indian shipyards during a large international gathering,” the Navy added.
Chinese research vessel
The timing of the entry of Yuan Wang-6 coincides with a planned long range missile test by India next week. According to the open source intelligence handle on Twitter @detresfa, India has issued a notification NOTAM (Notice to Airmen), for a no-fly zone over then Bay of Bengal between November 10 and 11 for a maximum distance of 2,200 km. Given the range, the test it is likely to be related to an Agni series of Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile.
According to the maritime vessel tracking portal marinetraffic.com, the Yuan Wang-6 departed from Jiangyin in China on October 21, and as on the morning of November 4 was located near Indonesia and heading in the southwest direction.
While research activities are allowed in international waters as per international regulations, the data generated has a dual nature, including military, and many times, the motive of Chinese vessels seems doubtful, Defence officials had stated.
Just a few days back, the Japanese Defence Ministry said that a Chinese survey vessel had entered Japan’s territorial waters in the early hours of November 2. This, according to an article in The Diplomat by Takahashi Kosuke with the Janes Defence Weekly, was the fourth time that a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessel had intruded into Japan’s waters this year, a record high.
In the past, Chinese naval vessels have been observed in the vicinity while the Malabar exercise was underway.
As reported by The Hindu earlier, there has been steady rise in the deployment of Chinese research vessels in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), and the general area of deployment observed to be around the ninety-degree east ridge and south-west Indian ridge. Research or survey vessels have powerful equipment for snooping and gathering a range of data.
Speaking at an event in September, Admiral Kumar had said, “At any point, we have anything between five-eight Chinese Navy units, be it warships or research vessels and a host of Chinese fishing vessels operating in the IOR. We keep a watch on them and see how they are undertaking their activities in the IOR.”
Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean began in 2008 under the garb of anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and China has since maintained a continuous presence in the region, even deploying nuclear attack submarines on occasions.
China has since set up a military base in Djibouti and developed several dual use ports in the IOR in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Pakistan, among other countries. “We have aircraft sorties, [and] ships deployed almost 24X7 to keep an eye on the IOR,” Admiral Kumar had stated.