India sending warships through South China Sea as China questions German frigate's intentions

India has announced several of its Navy warships will soon sail through the South China Sea, the latest country to send vessels towards the contested waters.

The Indian Defence Ministry on Tuesday announced a "Task Force of Indian Navy's Eastern Fleet" will set sail in August to South East Asia, the South China Sea and into the Western Pacific. The fleet comprises a number of warships, with at least three ships built in India and  "equipped with a versatile array of weapons and sensors". 

The Indian Navy will partake in a number of exercises while on voyage, including with the Japanese and Australian navies. 

The deployment, which the ministry says seeks to underscore "peaceful presence and solidarity with friendly countries" and strengthen India's bonds with other countries in the Indo-Pacific, follows Germany on Monday announcing one of its frigates will cross the South China Sea in December. 

China claims much of the sea as its own and has constructed military bases on artificial islands in the waters. However, other countries in the region have challenged China's expansion and, in 2016, the Hague rejected China's claim to the territory. 

The United States often conducts 'freedom of navigation' operations through the sea, passing close by to some islands, angering China. The United Kingdom's massive HMS Queen Elizabeth ship is currently sailing through the waters.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reports the German frigate wants to stop at Shanghai during its voyage, but China is yet to make a decision on whether to allow the port call. 

"The German side has made requests to the Chinese side to arrange for its warship to visit Shanghai through multiple channels," a foreign ministry spokesperson said.

"But regarding this warship operation, the information released by the German side before and after is too confusing. China will make a decision after the German side has fully clarified the relevant intentions."

One expert the SCMP spoke to said Germany was striking a balance between showing commitment to the US and not angering Beijing by not sailing within 12 nautical miles of the islands China claims as its own.

"The voyage to the South China Sea is a strategic move in cooperating with the US to pressure China. Germany still regards China as a cooperative partner on the whole, and cooperation is the main aspect," said Sun Keqin from the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

China has consistently called on the UK to keep to what it considers international waters. Last week, an editorial in the Global Times said if warships want to "exert geopolitical pressure and build a wall to contain China along those shipping lines", they can expect "confrontation".