China has confirmed that, for the first time ever, it will send People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessels and representatives to the Indian International Fleet Review. India had extended an invitation to the PLAN in May, which was announced after the Indian naval commanders conference. The fleet review is being hosted by India’s Eastern Naval Command at Visakhapatnam in February 2016. According to a report by The Hindu, though the PLAN’s participation is confirmed, the details of which vessels and personnel will participate are not yet settled.
India’s International Fleet Review will be hosted for the first time by the country’s Eastern Naval Command in 2016 and will include over 60 sea-faring nations and over 100 vessels (over 90 states have been invited). According to a New Indian Express report, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and other senior Indian officials will attend the review and meet senior naval officers, including the chiefs of naval staff, of the participating states. Notably, the fleet review will be a send-off of sorts for India’s aging aircraft carrier, the INS Viraat, which is set for decommissioning after 57 years of continuous service, first in the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy and then the Indian Navy.
China’s participation in the fleet review seems to build on the military cooperation commitments Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang laid out during Modi’s visit to China in May 2015. In that statement, the leaders noted that “the two sides will exchange visits of naval ships and hold [passing exercises] and [search and rescue] exercises.” Despite Indian mistrust of Chinese naval operations in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the two countries seem to be interested in promoting military-to-military contacts.
The PLAN’s participation in the fleet review comes as the Indian Navy grows concerned about Chinese naval operations in the IOR, including submarine operations. As the United States Department of Defense confirmed in its 2015 report about China’s military, Chinese Shang– and Song-class submarines are confirmed to be operating in the IOR. Last November, a Chinese submarine and warship were spotted at a dock in Colombo, Sri Lanka, confirming Indian suspicions that the PLAN was using China-funded port facilities in the IOR for operational use.
China’s participation in the Indian International Fleet Review next year will likely do little to ease Indian concern about Chinese naval activities in the Indian Ocean in the short term, but given that naval contacts between the two sides remain limited, it won’t make matters worse.