Chinese surveillance of Indian warships during ASEAN drills raises concerns

It seems that China is persisting in its practice of monitoring the activities of other nations. The most recent example involves eight Chinese maritime “militia” vessels and the surveillance vessel Xiang Yang Hong 10, which attempted to spy on the inaugural Asean-India naval exercise in the South China Sea that ended on Monday.

Despite the Chinese vessels and aircraft making no approach to the exercising warships, the drills proceeded as planned. India and the South East Asian nations closely tracked the movements of the boats, which were operating under the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).

What was China trying to claim?

In the South China Sea, China has been embroiled in territorial disputes with its neighboring countries, including Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, and has been actively seeking to expand its presence in the region. According to a report by Deccan Herald, China’s recent maritime militia operation aimed to assert its expansive claims in the South China Sea, flex its maritime muscles, and send a message to New Delhi and ASEAN capitals that it was not pleased with the ASEAN-India Maritime Exercise (AIME).

During the AIME, which took place on May 7th and 8th, Chinese vessels, including a research vessel, approached the exercise area in the exclusive economic zone of Vietnam but did not disrupt the drills conducted by the participating warships from India, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei, and Vietnam. The Chinese boats came within 70-80 kilometers of the Indian and ASEAN warships at one point, but they did not pose any threat to the exercises.

According to an Indian defense establishment source cited by the Times of India, the Chinese vessels did not come close enough to disrupt the AIME drills, and there was no cause for alarm. However, the Chinese vessels were closely monitored throughout the exercise.

What did warships of Indian and ASEAN states do?

Hindustan Times quoted people familiar with the matter saying that the warships of India and some other ASEAN states which were involved in the exercise had gone “dark” by switching off their automatic identification system (AIS).

Who spotted Chinese vessels in the South China Sea?

According to former US Air Force officer Ray Powell, who tracks South China Sea developments for the Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation at Stanford University, the presence of Chinese vessels during the ASEAN-India naval exercise was first reported on social media.

Powell noted that on Sunday evening, five Chinese maritime militia ships moved from the Spratly Islands towards the exercise area, while three other ships left Subi Reef and headed in the same direction on Monday.

Despite this, the two-day sea phase of the ASEAN-India Maritime Exercise, or AIME 2023, went ahead as planned on Sunday, with India’s indigenous warships INS Delhi, INS Satpura, and a P8I maritime patrol aircraft taking part in the exercise.

India is watching China’s moves

India has been closely monitoring China’s activities in the South China Sea and is taking measures to prevent the Chinese Navy from gaining a stronghold in the Indian Ocean. Combat-ready Indian warships are conducting round-the-clock surveillance to detect any unusual activity.

India has consistently advocated for a free, open, and inclusive order in the Indo-Pacific, emphasizing the importance of respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations.



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