India, along with Japan and the United States, on Friday began marine war drills called the Malabar Exercise close to the South China Sea. The exercise is part of efforts to strengthen military cooperation amid rising tensions in the sea territory, PTI reported. “The primary aim of this exercise is to increase interoperability amongst the three navies and to develop common understanding of procedures for Maritime Security Operations,” a statement from the Indian Navy said.

The Special Forces of the three navies will also be part of the exercise. While the harbour phase of the exercise started today at Sasebo, the sea phase in the Pacific Ocean will be held from June 14 to 17. The drills are being conducted in keeping with India’s “Act East Policy”, according to which ties with India's East Asian countries are a foreign policy priority. Indian warships INS Satpura (pictured above), INS Sahyadri, INS Shakti and INS Kirch are participating in the 20th edition of the naval exercise, the Indian Navy said in a statement.

India has conducted this annual exercise with the US regularly since 1992. But the Malabar Exercise gains significance now because it is being held close to the South China Sea, given an ongoing territorial dispute and China staking claim in the region. The drill has been held alternatively off the coast of India and in the Western Pacific since 2007. It was conducted off Chennai’s shoreline last year, including Japan as well.