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Indian, US Warships Conduct Joint Drills in Indian Ocean 

In this photo provided by U.S. Navy, the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76, front) and USS Nimitz (CVN 68, rear) Carrier Strike Groups sail together in formation, in the South China Sea, July 6, 2020.

Indian navy warships have held a joint exercise with the United States navy in the Indian Ocean, according to the two countries.

The maritime drill signals growing strategic cooperation between New Delhi and Washington at a time of heightened tensions with China.

The exercises were carried out Monday near India’s Andaman and Nicobar islands, which are located away from the Indian mainland near one of the world’s busiest shipping routes close to the Malacca Strait.

The Indian navy called the Monday drills with the aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz, a “passage exercise,” a reference to maneuvers held by two countries when a transiting warship joins other.

“The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group is transiting through IOR [Indian Ocean Region]. During the passage, Indian navy units undertook Passage Exercise (Passex) with US Navy,” the Indian navy spokesman said in a tweet.

Rear Admiral Jim Kirk, commander of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group, said in a statement that the “series of exercises improved our interoperability and is a testimony to the flexibility of both our Navies."

Washington had deployed two warships, the USS Nimitz and the USS Ronald Reagan, in the South China Sea where territorial disputes have flared between China and its smaller neighbors. The United States has rejected China’s claims as “unlawful.”

Although New Delhi has steered clear of making any statement on the competing claims in the contested waters, the Indian foreign ministry said last week the South China Sea was “part of global commons and India has an abiding interest in peace and stability in the region."

Tensions between India and China are at their worst in decades following a clash over their disputed border in the Himalayas that killed 20 Indian soldiers. Analysts say deteriorating ties between the Asian neighbors will push New Delhi to build closer strategic ties and deepen naval cooperation with Washington.

India is widely expected to clear the way for including Australia in the annual Malabar exercise that it holds with the United States and Japan in a sign that the four navies intend closer collaboration with an eye on China.