New Delhi: In what is an indication of changing times, External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar said on July 20 non-alignment was a term of a bygone era as the warships of the Indian Navy and the United States Navy conducted a joint drill off Andaman and Nicobar Islands – sending out a message to China.
“Non-alignment was a term of a particular era and geopolitical landscape,” Jaishankar said during a discussion. “The era of great caution, the era of greater dependence on multilateralism…that era is to a certain extent behind us,” he said responding to a question if India was moving away from the principle of non-alignment and moving closer to the US.
His comment came on a day Indian Navy’s warships INS Rana, INS Sahyadri, INS Shivalik, and INS Kamorta had a cooperative exercise with world’s biggest aircraft carrier USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Group in the Indian Ocean off Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Apart from the USS Nimitz, the other US Navy ships like guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton and missile destroyers USS Sterett and USS Ralph Johnson joined the Indian Navy ships to conduct high-end exercises designed to maximise training and interoperability, including air defence.
The joint drill and the comments by the Minister came at a time when China’s aggression along its disputed boundary with India fuelled speculation that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in New Delhi might have to review its policy of maintaining strategic ambiguity and move full steam ahead for greater India-US strategic convergence in Indo-Pacific to counter expansionist aspirations of President Xi Jinping’s regime in Beijing.
“If we are to grow by leveraging the international situation, then we have to exploit the opportunities out there. You cannot do that by saying ‘I’m going to stay away from it all and when I find it useful, I’ll step out.’ Either you are in the game or you are not in the game,” Jaishankar said. He, however, added that India was never a part of any alliance and would never be.
The joint exercise by US and Indian warships closer to Malacca Strait was intended to send out the message to China that the sea lane, which is vital for the communist country, could be choked in case of a conflict in the region.
The USS Nimitz was one of the two carriers the US Navy had deployed in the South China Sea earlier this month, with the other being USS Ronald Reagan. The US Navy ships conducted several tactical exercises to maximise air defence capabilities. The move was part of the US response to China’s aggressive military posturing in the South China Sea.
The US last week rejected most of China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea as “completely unlawful”. The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced Beijing’s bid to turn the South China Sea as its “maritime empire”.