New Delhi is set to host a naval exercise next week with 23 participating nations including Australia, Malaysia and Vietnam â€“ a move that is sure to agitate China.
Beijing has warned that the large war-game to be staged in the Indian Ocean â€“ earmarked as a solid step to push the new Indo-Pacific co-defense strategy â€“ could risk â€œspreading the Sino-Indian tensions from land to the seaâ€.
The Beijing-based Global Times has called for the Chinese military to stage a â€œtit-for-tatâ€ response, such as a drill of similar size.
The biennial, eight-day exercise codenamed â€˜Milanâ€™ is being organized on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the eastern Indian Ocean from March 6.
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are located at the juncture of the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea, west of Chennai. The biennial naval exercise has been held nine times since 1995.
India will host navies from at least 16 countries for the drill â€œin the backdrop of Chinaâ€™s growing military posturing in the Indo-Pacific region,â€ the semi-official Press Trust of India has said.
The fact that navy chiefs and representatives of participating countries will discuss Chinaâ€™s military maneuvers in the South China Sea wil also irk Beijing.
The 16 nations include Australia, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Myanmar, New Zealand, Oman, Vietnam, Thailand, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Kenya and Cambodia, according to Indian Navy spokesman Captain DK Sharma.
Analysts say this is a rare event, possibly the first time that so many navies from the Asia-Pacific and far-flung regions will meet to hone skills together in the increasingly combustible Indian Ocean.
It comes amid speculation that these vast waters may replace the South China Sea as the next hotspot when an assertive Beijing seeks to project its might further beyond its borders.
Aside from the navies listed above, South Africa, the Philippines, Mozambique, Brunei, Papua New Guinea, Seychelles and Timor Leste will also participate in patrol exercises, maritime rescue and other humanitarian missions.
Not long after China and India pulled troops away from the Doklam plateau to stop a border standoff from escalating into a regional war, India launched an intercontinental ballistic missile in January, making no bones that it â€œcould reach the northernmost parts of China with its strike range of over 5,000 kilometers.â€ One month later, the nuclear-capable Prithvi-II missile was tested in the eastern state of Odisha.
â€œIndia is provoking China,â€ Hu Zhiyong, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, claimed in the Peopleâ€™s Daily.
â€œChina should respond militarily to send the message that itâ€™s prepared to go to the stakes when it comes to safeguarding its own legitimate interests,â€ he said.
His remarks echo a recent PLA Daily editorial that in 2018 the force should go hold drills and beef up its presence in places that the Chinese navy and air force have seldom been before. The PLA Navy traditionally holds exercises in the Yellow Sea and East China Sea but â€œexpect more sights of Chinese warships in other parts of the globe,â€ the op-ed said.