China-India border dispute

Chinese navy’s live-fire drill may be warning shot to India amid ongoing Doklam stand-off

Commander says Indian Ocean exercise is designed to improve battle readiness as Beijing signals willingness to protect vital shipping routes

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 August, 2017, 2:24pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 August, 2017, 9:34pm

The Chinese navy has held a live-fire drill in the waters of the western Indian Ocean, in a possible sign that the People’s Liberation Army is stepping up its readiness for a potential conflict with India.

The Chinese naval formation – consisting of the destroyer Changchun, guided-missile frigate Jingzhou and supply vessel Chaohu – conducted the drill under real combat conditions, state-run Xinhua reported on Friday.

The fleet conducted strikes against “enemy” ships and replenished vessels with fuel and drinking water in a side-by-side manoeuvre, the report said.

It said the exercise was designed to improve the navy’s “far-ranging” abilities, but did not reveal exactly where or when the drill took place.

Chen Denan, chief of staff of the Chinese fleet, was quoted as saying that various drills under complicated circumstances were conducted to improve battle readiness.

Xinhua said the fleet was on a half-year friendship tour of Asia, Europe, Africa and Oceania, and had conducted joint exercises with navies from 10 other countries since it started its voyage on April 23.

The navies of India, the United States and Japan have also recently completed their annual Malabar exercises in the Indian Ocean.

The PLA Navy drill was conducted as China and India continued to lock horns in a border dispute in Doklam, an area lying between Tibet’s Chumbi valley to the north, Bhutan’s Ha valley to the east and India’s Sikkim state to the west.

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Ni Lexiong, a Shanghai-based military affairs commentator, said the Chinese drill was a sign that Beijing was “determined to take action” if Chinese vessels were blocked from travelling in the Indian Ocean.

China relies heavily on imported fuel and more than 80 per cent of the nation’s oil imports travel via the Indian Ocean or Strait of Malacca. A blockade of Chinese vessels by the Indian navy in the Bay of Bengal or the Indian Ocean would be devastating to Beijing.

“If a full-scale war happens, the ocean will be a key field,” Ni said. “And China needs to make a gesture that it is prepared for potential conflict.”

The stand-off between China and India began in June when Indian troops moved in to stop China extending a road on the Doklam plateau. Beijing has called on India to withdraw the troops unconditionally.

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The Chinese military has since carried out several high-profile drills near its border with India in Tibet, including one in July using live ammunition.

China has also stepped up activities in the Indian Ocean, usually under the banner of anti-piracy and freedom of navigation patrols.

In February, the Chinese missile destroyers Haikou and Changsha conducted live-fire anti-piracy and combat drills in the East Indian Ocean to test combat readiness, according to state media reports.

The Indian Ocean features in President Xi Jinping’s ambitious “One Belt, One Road Initiative” and India has expressed concerns over China’s increased presence in the region, where it is building ports and other infrastructure in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Apart from buying 22 Guardian unarmed drones from the US to tighten surveillance of the strategic waters, India would hold a large joint maritime exercise with more than a dozen countries in the region later this year to “counter the increased aggressiveness of China”, India Today reported.