India to join US and Japan in major naval drill off Okinawa

07 June 2016

India will join Japan and the United States in a major trilateral naval drill in the waters off the east coast of Okinawa Prefecture starting Friday, Japan's Maritime Self Defense Forces said in a press release today.

US, Japanese and Indian warships will hold a large-scale joint naval exercise over eight days from Friday in the Western Pacific, close to a Japanese island chain, part of which China claims.

Japanese warships, which include the Hyuga, one of the country's three new helicopter carriers, will practice submarine hunting and anti-aircraft defence during the exercise, which is scheduled to run for eight days through 17 June.

The drill is part of a concerted move to arrest China's efforts to extend its influence into the Western Pacific, with a growing fleet of submarines and surface vessels to ply distant oceans.

An extension of the annual Indo-US exercise dubbed Malabar, the drill later added Japan as a third participant.

The large-scale exercises, which will focus on anti-submarine warfare and air-defence training, are likely to bolster ties between the three allies amid Beijing's increased militarisation of the disputed South China Sea and its repeated incursions into Japanese territorial waters in the East China Sea, which houses the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, which are also claimed by China.

China is in the process of beefing up its submarine fleet, which has stoked concern in Tokyo and Washington.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims, as well as close military ties with the United States.

Tokyo participated in the 2007 Malabar exercises hosted by India, but after strong protests by China against the inclusion of Japan and Australia, it has taken part in the drills only four other times.

The MSDF will dispatch its new Hyuga ''helicopter carrier,'' as well as P-3C and P-1 patrol planes, and US-2 rescue aircraft to the drills.

The US Navy's 7th Fleet, based in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, will also take part in the exercises.

In December, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Indian leader Narendra Modi agreed that Japan would take part in the exercise on a regular basis.

On the sidelines of the Shangri-la dialogue in Singapore on Friday, Japanese defense minister Gen Nakatani and his Indian counterpart Manohar Parrikar agreed to boost trilateral cooperation with the US amid China's growing assertiveness in the region, Kyodo News reported.

Japan's southwestern island chain, which hosts the biggest concentration of US military personnel in Asia, blocks China's east coast access to the Western Pacific. Japan's military is reinforcing the islands with radar stations and anti-ship missile batteries.

On Tuesday, China told the United States it should play a constructive role in safeguarding peace in the disputed South China Sea, as US secretary of state John Kerry called for talks and a peaceful resolution.

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