China flexes muscles while India and Friends exercise in South China Sea

China flexes muscles while India and Friends exercise in South China Sea

Boats belonging to a Chinese sea militia approached an area where the navies of India and Asean countries were taking part in drills in the South China Sea, says a Reuter’s report on April 9.

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The two-day sea phase of the Asean-India Maritime Exercise (AIME 2023) began on Sunday with naval ships and aircraft from India, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Brunei taking part.

They were in the Vietnamese Exclusive Economic Zone when the Chinese boats moved towards them, says the report quoting ‘Indian sources’.

However, the militia boats and naval vessels crossed each other without any face-off, they said.

The report says that Indian authorities were tracking the movements of at least five militia boats.

A Chinese research vessel was also following these boats towards the same area, they said.

Mr Ray Powell, who leads Project Myoushu on the South China Sea at Stanford University, said the boats belong to the ‘Qiong Sansha Yu’ militia fleet in the area.

Such militias consist of commercial fishing boats, which work in coordination with the Chinese authorities for political objectives in the South China Sea. China has, in the past denied the existence of any such militia.

An independent expert in Vietnam said Beijing appeared to be using the militia to intimidate and disrupt the naval exercise.

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Ms Van Pham, manager of The South China Sea Chronicle Initiative (SCSCI), an independent non-profit which monitors vessel-tracking data, said this was not the first time Chinese “so-called fishing vessels” were around and intimidated warships of other countries.

Chinese research vessel Xiang Yang Hong 10 had come as close as 10 miles – 16 kilometres – to the participating Vietnamese warship at one point, Ms Pham said.

The drill is the first Asean-India Maritime Exercise (AIME-2023) and is co-hosted by the Indian and Singaporean navies.

Several of China’s coastal  neighbours have accused it of using its official and militia vessels to harass and intimidate their fishing and military boats in the South China Sea.

China has not responded to Reuters queries about the alleged incident and its possible motives. The Indian and Vietnamese governments declined to comment.

China has for years claimed sovereignty over the entire South China Sea, and has been sensitive to the presence of other militaries in the region.