This week, Indian warships visited Cambodia and Thailand as part of a two-month long operational deployment in surrounding waters in pursuit of India’s ‘Act East’ Policy.
According to a June 23 press release by the Indian embassy in Bangkok seen by The Diplomat, the Indian Navy’s Eastern Fleet under the command of Rear Admiral Ajendra Bahadur Singh entered the two Southeast Asian countries as part of a broader operational deployment to Southeast Asia and the Southern Indian Ocean. The ships had been on a 45-day deployment, which included port calls to Jakarta (Indonesia), Fremantle (Australia), and Singapore, where they participated in the bilateral exercise SIMBEX-15 with the Royal Singapore Navy.
The visits, the press release said, were “in pursuance of India’s ‘Act East’ policy.” As I have written before, India’s ‘Act East’ policy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a deliberate attempt to signal a more action-oriented policy toward East Asia in contrast to India’s ‘Look East’ policy, first formulated under Prime Minister Narasimha Rao in the 1990s (See: “Modi Unveils India’s ‘Act East Policy’ to ASEAN in Myanmar”).
In Thailand, two warships – INS Satpura, an indigenously built guided missile stealth frigate and INS Shakti – as well as a fleet tanker and support ship entered Sattahip, Thailand on a four-day visit. The visit, the Indian embassy said, “is aimed at strengthening bilateral ties and fostering interoperability between navies of the two friendly nations.” During the stay in harbor, various activities were planned, including official calls, receptions on board, guided tours for Indian naval personnel, and professional interaction between the personnel of both the navies.
In Cambodia, the INS Ranvir, a guided missile destroyer, and the INS Kamorta, an indigenously-built anti-submarine corvette, entered Sihanoukville. India’s ambassador to Cambodia, Dinesh Patnaik, said that about 500 Indian seamen would participate in what he called “a training and medical exercise,” performing different operations with the Cambodian navy, including ship-docking exercises and emergency medical drills. He described it as a “goodwill mission” and denied that it was designed to counter China.
Despite all the hype this has gotten in the media, these ‘goodwill missions’ are nothing new. Indian naval ships have been paying goodwill visits to both Cambodia and Thailand regularly over the past few years. This includes Sihanoukville and Sattahip specifically, since they host naval bases for Cambodia and Thailand respectively.