The biggest-ever naval build-up in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea --- under the ongoing Indian Navy-led Milan multilateral exercises --- is believed to have fed China’s concerns.
At least three nations taking part in these maneouvres and China have overlapping sovereignty claims to Spratly islands in the South China Sea.
The Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia, which are among the 12 participating countries, are competing with China to grab their share of oil and natural gas reserves in the Spratly region. Senior navy officials said the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) could be monitoring the six-day exercises covering areas such as maritime terror, search and rescue, anti-piracy and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
Vice Admiral D.K. Joshi, Commander-in-Chief, Andaman and Nicobar Command, India’s only tri-service command, told HT, “China would be monitoring what’s happening here.
But Milan is a non-military forum. It’s more of a socio-cultural engagement.” Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma stressed that China had nothing to be suspicious about. “Some nations taking part in the exercises may be having problems of maritime claims with another country (China).
But Milan has a different theme. It does not seek to create a security bloc.” But Beijing has always been suspicious of naval alliances ---especially those involving India --- in the Indian Ocean region where the PLAN wants to wield more influence. China had accused India, United States, Japan and Australia of ganging up against it when the four navies exercised together in 2007 as part of the Malabar series of exercises.
Strategic affairs expert Commodore Uday Bhaskar (retd) told HT from New Delhi, “If I were a Chinese admiral, I would be watching exercises such as Milan very carefully.
India and China need to engage each other more to lessen the chances of any misunderstanding.” Warships from Australia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand pulled into Port Blair for the seventh edition of the biennial Milan exercises on February 3.
The Philippines, Brunei, New Zealand and Vietnam have sent naval delegations to build a climate of confidence and cooperation.
The Navy has steadily expanded the scope of Milan. Only four navies took part in the inaugural edition of these exercises in 1995. Infrastructure at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is also being spruced up swiftly.
Verma said the Navy would be deploying more warships and offshore patrol vessels. He said airfields were also being upgraded to support heavier aircraft and night flying operations.