India, China and US gunboat diplomacy via USS Nimitz

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India, China and US gunboat diplomacy via USS Nimitz


WASHINGTON: How times change. Nearly 50 years after then US President

Richard Nixon

ordered the Aircraft Carrier USS Enterprise into the Bay of Bengal to threaten India in the face of its imminent victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war,

Washington

has sent the nuclear-powered

supercarrier USS Nimitz

to the same waters in a show of solidarity with New Delhi amid tensions both countries face with China.

Currently the world’s largest aircraft carrier, Nimitz sailed into the Bay of Bengal on Monday to be greeted by the Indian Navy’s Eastern Command for what was described as a “passex,” an incidental naval exercise during a warship’s passage (rather than an elaborate, planned exercise). It was a far cry from December 1971 when the Indian Navy was tasked with confronting the US Navy battlegroup, and the Soviet Union rushed its nuclear submarines to support New Delhi.

“The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group is transiting through IOR. During the passage, #IndianNavy units undertook Passage Exercise (PASSEX) with #USNavy. Indian Navy had also conducted similar PASSEXs with (Japan’s) #JMSDF and #FrenchNavy in recent past,” an Indian Navy spokesperson said in a tweet on Monday, seeking to place the exercises, which will extend into Tuesday, in a broad context.

The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group is transiting through IOR. During the passage, #IndianNavy units undertook Passage… https://t.co/rrWinIMngB

— SpokespersonNavy (@indiannavy)1595246545000

The US too made no reference to China, but its language preceding the exercise was unmistakably aimed at Beijing. “Don’t underestimate the strength of free democracies,” US defence secretary Mark Esper tweeted as the American formation sailed past the Malacca Straits toward Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where New Delhi has established its first tri-services command, supplementing a US Navy tweet that said “The strength of @USNavy aircraft carriers includes the friendships they help build.”

Don’t underestimate the strength of free democracies. https://t.co/dl0398uXWF

— Dr. Mark T. Esper (@EsperDoD)1594991001000

Photos and footage posted online showed Nimitz, at a little over 100,000 tons and packed with 90 fighter jets, sailing in formation with India’s aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya (45400 tons, 36 aircraft).

In Washington, US lawmakers left no doubt that they held China responsible for its recent predatory grab at Indian territory, introducing a resolution in the US House of Representatives urging Beijing to work towards de-escalating the situation at the border through existing diplomatic mechanisms rather than by force.

Expressing concern about the continued military aggression by China along its border with India and in other parts of the world, including with Bhutan, in

the South China Sea

, and with the Senkaku Islands, and its aggressive posture toward Hong Kong and Taiwan, the lawmakers accused Beijing of trying to redraw long-standing settled boundaries through the u

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