GP Short Notes # 674, 7 May 2023
On 2 May 2023, the first phase of the ASEAN India Maritime Exercises (AIME) started at the Changi Naval Base. The second phase will be conducted from 7-8 May 2023 in the South China Sea (SCS). The naval exercise involved nine ships, six aircraft and over 1800 personnel from the ASEAN Member States and India.
The opening ceremony of the AIME-23 was held at the Changi Naval Base in Singapore. INS Delhi and INS Satpura participated from the Indian side. INS Delhi is India’s first indigenously-built guided missile destroyer and INS Satpura is an indigenously-built guided missile stealth frigate. They are part of the Indian Navy’s Eastern Fleet located at Visakhapatnam. The ships will also take part in the International Maritime Defence Exhibition (IMDEX-23) and International Maritime Security Conference (IMSC) being hosted by Singapore.
What is the background?
First, a brief note on the objectives of the first India-ASEAN exercise - building trust and increasing operationality among navies. Amid the rising Chinese assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly in the South China Sea, it is the first naval exercise between India and ASEAN countries. The frequency of the exercises has not been decided yet. It gives both sides an opportunity to familiarize themselves and collaborate on the naval front seamlessly. The Chief of Naval Staff of the Indian Navy has said that the “important outcome of these exercises is to build trust between various participants”.
Second, ASEAN is a peacebuilder. Because of the increasing demand for trade and economic growth, ASEAN is conducive to making supply chains resilient and preparing for any human-induced shock. ASEAN lies at the core of India’s Act East Policy and is crucial for framing overarching security architecture to enable development and prosperity for all.
Third, militarised the South China Sea. China has militarized the SCS region by building artificial islands, occupying islands and reefs by force and using other means to maintain its sovereignty over the region. China claims the region on historical grounds and has maintained ambiguity about its clear position in the region. In 2016, China refused to comply with the Permanent Court of Arbitration award/verdict that was in favour of the Philippines. Recently, China has been aggressive in the Indo-Pacific region. China has held its second ferocious drill in the Taiwan Strait and has been luring the ASEAN countries with cheque-book diplomacy. China is also cautiously looking at the India-China border. At the 20th Party Congress of China, Xi Jinping included people with experience in dealing with India.
Fourth, conflict over resources. There is a conflict in the SCS region between China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan. The dispute is over the strategic value of the islands and the vast mineral resources that lie underneath.
What does it mean?
Strategically, the South China Sea region is of vital importance to India. Almost 55 per cent of the Indian trade passes through the region. India does not have any territorial claims but has economic interests in the region. Indian vision of the Indo-Pacific underscores the importance of ASEAN centrality. By conducting the exercises, India becomes the fourth country after the US, Russia and China to hold ASEAN +1 naval exercises. Overall, the objective of AIME 2023 is to achieve coordination with ASEAN countries in maritime domain awareness, build maritime defence capabilities of the ASEAN countries and support them in acquiring the advanced platform that India is producing.