Naval warships, aircraft carriers and submarines from the U.S., India and Japan steamed into the Bay of Bengal on Saturday as they took part in joint military exercises off India's east coast, signaling the growing strategic ties among the three countries as they face up to a rising China.

The sea drills, part of the six-day-long Malabar exercises, will cover the full spectrum of naval maneuvers, including military-to-military coordination and anti-submarine warfare, according to a joint statement.

The U.S. has deployed the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, a missile cruiser and a nuclear-powered submarine for the annual exercises, which end Monday.

"India and Japan both are fantastic partners of the United States," Capt. Craig Clapperton, commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, told reporters on board the ship. "We share a great deal in common, and we certainly have very strong economic, military and political relationships and friendships with India and Japan."

A Chinese state-run newspaper, however, cautioned India to guard against being drawn into an anti-China alliance.

"The China-India relationship is on a sound track, and healthy ties are beneficial to both countries," the Global Times said. "India should be vigilant to any intentions of roping it into an anti-China camp."

Almost simultaneously, China's People's Liberation Army and the Indian army are conducting joint counterterrorism exercises in southwestern China.

China has long been wary of joint maritime exercises between India and the United States, but is especially concerned now, with Beijing involved in a host of disputes with Japan, South Korea and several of its Southeast Asian neighbors in the South China Sea.

This year's Malabar exercises are being held against the backdrop of expectations that the U.S. might directly challenge Chinese claims in the South China Sea by sailing a Navy ship inside the 12-nautical-mile territorial limit surrounding an artificial island built by China.