The Indian Navy will join the Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) for an inaugural maritime search and rescue exercise chaired by the Bangladesh Navy in the Indian Ocean later this year.
The exercise will occur under the aegis of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) and will involve other participating navies. It is scheduled for November 2017. The PLAN is not a member of IONS, but participates in activities as an observer.
“Bangladesh, the current Chair, is scheduling a maiden International Maritime Search and Rescue Exercise (IMMSAREX) in November in the Bay of Bengal to be attended by ships and aircraft of the members and observers of the IONS,” one source told The Hindu.
The Indian Navy’s decision to participate in the exercise comes as tensions between India and China are high amid a Himalayan standoff at the Dolam plateau, a territory disputed between China and Bhutan.
IONS is among a handful of regional organizations focusing on the Indian Ocean; it incorporates littoral states on the Indian Ocean.
Indian Ocean littoral states are represented by the heads of their navies and the organization aims to foster military-to-military cooperation.
According to its website, IONS “is a voluntary initiative that seeks to increase maritime co-operation among navies of the littoral states of the Indian Ocean Region by providing an open and inclusive forum for discussion of regionally relevant maritime issues.”
This year, Bangladesh, as the chair, is adding an “extraordinary conclave of Chiefs” meeting for naval representatives at IONS. The Bangladesh Navy had previously chaired IONS humanitarian assistance/disaster relief workshop in October 2010.
The side-by-side participation of the Chinese and Indian Navies will come amid growing Indian skepticism of China’s naval activities in the Indian Ocean region as Beijing sets up its first overseas base at Djibouti.
In the meantime, India has been expanding the scope of its naval exercises with states concerned about China’s rise more broadly.
Earlier this year, the Indian, Japanese, and U.S. navies held the 2017 iteration of the now-trilateralized Malabar exercise in the Indian Ocean, focusing on anti-submarine warfare.