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Building Maritime Cooperation: Milan 2024 amidst escalating tension with China India-China
Photo Courtesy: @AN_Command

Building Maritime Cooperation: Milan 2024 amidst escalating tension with China

India Blooms News Service | @indiablooms | 17 Feb 2024, 09:56 am

The 12th edition of the Multilateral Naval Exercise - 2024 (MILAN) is to be held at Visakhapatnam from February 19 to 27, and likely witness the largest-ever participation by over 50 countries and nearly 20 ships from friendly nations as compared to last year where only 39 countries participated.

The 12th edition of the Multilateral Naval Exercise - 2024 (MILAN) is to be held at Visakhapatnam from February 19 to 27, and likely witness the largest-ever participation by over 50 countries and nearly 20 ships from friendly nations as compared to last year where only 39 countries participated.

MILAN is a biennial multilateral naval exercise which was introduced by Indian Navy in the year 1995.

This initiative is in align with the India's Act East Policy and its Indo-Pacific approaches to provide Security and Growth for all in the Region (SAGAR) by inviting Friendly Foreign Countries (FFCs) at the Eastern seaboard in Visakhapatnam during the exercise. 

The exercise will involve various naval operations, including large-force manoeuvres, advanced air defence operations, anti-submarine warfare, and anti-surface warfare operations. 

What are its Objectives? 

Milan 24 will consist of two main phases — the harbour phase and the sea phase.

The harbour phase aims to promote cultural sharing among participating nations through various events and exhibitions.

In contrast, the sea phase will focus on joint naval exercises and operations.

Milan serves as a testament to India's commitment to promoting maritime cooperation and security in the Indian Ocean Region, highlighting the importance of international collaboration in addressing common challenges and ensuring a secure maritime environment. 

India is poised to flex its naval muscle in the upcoming Milan drills, underscoring its commitment to ensuring a secure and stable Indo-Pacific region amidst escalating tensions with China. 

Set against the backdrop of China's assertiveness in the region, the Milan exercises will witness an armada of 50 navies converging in the strategically vital Bay of Bengal, sending a resolute message of unity and cooperation in safeguarding maritime security and upholding the rules-based international order. 

Why Indo-Pacific countries should participate? 

China's increasing muscle-flexing in the Indo-Pacific, particularly in the East and South China Seas, has spurred concerns among regional stakeholders, necessitating concerted efforts to uphold peace and stability. 

Beijing is well aware that countries like the Philippines and Vietnam seek major powers' involvement in the South China Sea dispute, particularly the United States and India. Beijing has time and again accused the United States of provoking Manila over the lingering South China Sea dispute. 

It is a known fact that the United States desires India to play a key role and act as a contender against China. 

To show its support, India, for the first time, explicitly called for adherence not only to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) but also to the 2016 Arbitral Award in the Joint Statement issued in June 2023. On the other hand, the United States has strengthened its relations with Vietnam and the Philippines.

The United States and Vietnam elevated their relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership on 10 September 2023. 

Regarding the Philippines, the United States has reaffirmed its commitment to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.

This strengthened position with the United States and India by the Philippines and Vietnam could make China even more wary. 

With the increasing tension in the South China Sea between the Philippines and China in the Second Thomas Shoal beginning of this year, there is a high chance of de-escalation and conflicts between the two which is not unusual.

The Philippines' Coast Guard (PCG) has accused China of "dangerous and blocking" manoeuvres while its vessel patrolled near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Four Chinese maritime militia vessels were also present near the shoal. 

ASEAN countries at MILAN 2024 

All the ASEAN countries are expected to participate in MILAN 2024. Participation from all ASEAN countries in MILAN 2024 could be motivated by various security reasons: 

Regional Stability: Ensuring participation from all ASEAN nations can foster a sense of unity and cooperation within the region, contributing to overall stability.

By actively engaging in events like MILAN, countries can strengthen their ties and build trust, which are essential for maintaining peace and security. 

Information Sharing: MILAN provides a platform for sharing maritime security information, intelligence, and best practices. Full participation from ASEAN countries allows for a comprehensive exchange of information regarding common security threats such as piracy, terrorism, and illegal trafficking, thereby enhancing the collective ability to address these challenges effectively. 

Capacity Building: Participation in MILAN offers opportunities for capacity building in areas such as maritime law enforcement, search and rescue operations, and disaster response. By engaging in exercises and workshops during the event, ASEAN countries can improve their capabilities and readiness to respond to security threats in the maritime domain. 

Deterrence against Threats: A unified presence of ASEAN countries in MILAN can serve as a deterrent against potential security threats in the region. The collective demonstration of resolve and coordination sends a strong message to adversaries that any destabilizing actions will be met with a united response from ASEAN nations. 

Crisis Management: In the event of a maritime crisis or emergency situation, having all ASEAN countries involved in MILAN ensures a coordinated and swift response. This can include joint exercises to rehearse crisis management procedures, as well as the establishment of communication channels and protocols for information sharing during emergencies. 

Promotion of Rules-Based Order: Full participation in MILAN reaffirms ASEAN countries' commitment to upholding the rules-based international order, including respect for maritime laws and regulations. By actively engaging in multilateral security initiatives like MILAN, ASEAN nations contribute to the promotion of a stable and predictable environment in the maritime domain. 

Recommendations: How India can Leverage Milan to strengthen Maritime Cooperation 

•        India should use MILAN 2024 as an opportunity to enhance maritime cooperation with friendly nations. The exercise's focus on joint naval operations presents a platform for India to collaborate closely with participating countries in addressing common security challenges in the Indo-Pacific region.

•        India should underscore its commitment to ensuring a secure and stable Indo-Pacific region amidst escalating tensions with China. Through active participation and leadership in MILAN exercises, India can demonstrate its resolve to uphold maritime security and promote peace and stability in the region.

•        India should emphasize its adherence to international laws and conventions, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). By promoting adherence to established norms and rules, India can position itself as a responsible maritime actor committed to upholding the rules-based international order.

•        India should actively engage with other Indo-Pacific countries participating in MILAN to strengthen regional cooperation. By fostering partnerships and collaborative efforts, India can work together with like-minded nations to address common security threats, including China's assertiveness in the region.

•        India should use MILAN 2024 as an opportunity to address the South China Sea dispute and express support for countries seeking major powers' involvement in resolving the issue. By advocating for peaceful resolution and adherence to international law, India can contribute to efforts aimed at de-escalating tensions and promoting stability in the South China Sea.

•        India should use MILAN as a platform for promoting dialogue and diplomacy among participating nations. By engaging in constructive discussions and exchanges, India can build trust and cooperation with regional partners, contributing to a peaceful and secure maritime environment in the Indo-Pacific.

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