India joins Philippines, US, Japan in South China Sea drills

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India participated with the navies of the Philippines, the US and Japan for their first joint naval exercise on Thursday in the disputed South China Sea waters where Beijing has allegedly occupied many disputed territories.

Five vessels of the four participating countries navigated through international waters to Changi in east Singapore bordering the contested South China Sea.

The vessels included Indian destroyer INS Kolkata and tanker INS Shakti, a guided missile destroyer from the US Pacific Fleet, Japanese aircraft carrier Izumo and the Philippines patrol vessel Andres Bonifacio.

The Indian Navy tweeted about the drills and posted pictures of the warships that participated in the six-day group sail.

The second phase of the naval drill, ASEAN-Plus Defense Meeting-Plus Combined Maritime Exercise, took place in Changi after the first round was conducted in Busan in South Korea, the Philippine Navy said in a statement cited by Efe news.

This is the first time that the four countries have taken part in joint drills in these disputed waters. The six-day exercise began on May 3.

The combined show of naval might comes at a moment of heightened tensions in the trade war between China and the US - the two world powers locked in a tussle for the commercial control of South China Sea, which serves as a passage for annual trade worth $3.5 trillion.

"The group sail showed the active participation of the Philippine Navy as it strengthens its relationships with allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific region," said Roy Vincent Trinidad, the Navy captain who led the Philippine delegation.

The region has witnessed the growing influence of Beijing in the waters of South China Sea where China started occupying a number of islets and shoals in 2012 and allegedly constructed artificial islands to appropriate the territories.

China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan dispute the sovereignty of islands in the South China Sea - an area which accounts for 12 per cent of global fishing and through which 30 per cent of the world's trade passes, apart from housing possible oil and gas reserve.

The US and China both compete to extend influence over the Pacific. Washington is unwilling to let Beijing take over the area vital for its geo-strategic importance.

To counter Chinese dominance, the US seeks to place 60 per cent of its naval fleet in the Pacific by 2020, for which it needs to reinforce its military alliance with the Philippines.