India, Singapore favour multilateral naval drill with Asean

India, Singapore favour multilateral naval drill with Asean

India and Singapore on Wednesday favoured having a naval exercise in an area between the Andaman Sea and Malacca Strait with the participation of more South Asian nations -   a move that may upset China.

"Both countries want to see more participation and more activity in the Malacca strait and Andaman sea. We left it to the officials to flesh it out," Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said here after bilateral talks and signing of a naval cooperation agreement.

He was responding to a query on whether Singapore that would be chairing the Asean block of nations from January 1, 2018, would encourage increased Asean-level maritime engagement with India.

"The straits of Malacca and the Andaman Sea are key sea lanes of communication. It makes sense for countries to cooperate not only to establish maritime security but also to ensure continued freedom of navigation, because it is a lifeline to our economies and any disruption will affect our people and well being," Hen said.

Though no names were taken, the obvious reference was to China, whose increasing muscle-flexing in the South China Sea has become a cause of concern for South Asian nations. Both countries stressed on the need to have the freedom  to navigate  in the sea and air.

"We discussed at length our desire to step up cooperation in the maritime domain and institutionalising these mechanisms where we would have more bilateral and multilateral maritime exchanges, especially in India's waters and in the straits of Malacca. Singapore has strongly supported India's proposals," said Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

China took strong objections to the only multilateral naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal   - Malabar in 2007 - involving five nations, including Singapore.

The two ministers also discussed Singapore's proposal to expand the code of unplanned encounters at sea to all ADMM-Plus countries (a block of South Asian nations with some external participants) as well as to establish guidelines to avoid encounters between military aircraft, in order to reduce the risk of miscalculations.

The code is an international agreement to reduce the chance of a maritime confrontation between countries. As many as 21 countries, including the US, Russia,   China, Japan and France have joined the agreement.

The naval agreement, signed between the two nations, would not only facilitate Singapore Navy personnel and warships getting trained in India, but would allow Indian warships to replenish their fuel and ration at Changi port.

"We would encourage Indian Navy ships to visit Changi more often," said Hen, who flew in the indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft at Kalaikunda on Tuesday. The pact entails mutual logistics support to the naval ships.

 

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