India Takes-On China In Its Own Backyard; Deepens Defense Ties With Another SE Asian Nation – The Philippines

With eyes on China, Asian nations – India and the Philippines are joining hands to counter the  Chinese expansionist strategy in the region. 

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To strengthen bilateral defense ties, the fourth meeting of the India-Philippines joint commission on bilateral cooperation, co-chaired by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Philippines counterpart Teodoro Locsin Jr. L, was held virtually on Friday.

Both sides “agreed to further strengthen defense engagement and maritime cooperation…especially in military training and education, capacity building, regular goodwill visits, and procurement of defense equipment”, a Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) statement said.

Both sides held comprehensive discussions on a wide range of matters of mutual importance and reviewed the recent developments in India-Philippines relations as well as discussed the future trajectory of their wide-ranging engagement, it said.

Both Manila and Delhi have territorial conflicts with Beijing. While Indian Defence forces are engaged in a standoff at the Ladakh border, the Philippines has been fighting Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea.

New Delhi is strengthening ties with Asian nations through Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Act East’ policy, launched in 2014, which is aimed at strengthening ties with partners including Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Australia. 

In May 2019, India, the US, and the Philippines held Navy drills in the disputed South China Sea, for the first time, as a display of freedom of navigation in the sea lane claimed entirely by China. Indian vessels INS Kolkata and tanker INS Shakti participated in the exercise.

The Indian Navy said that the vessels from the four countries came “to train together and promote maritime cooperation throughout a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Manila has also shown interest in buying BrahMos, a medium-range supersonic cruise missile. Last year India’s ambassador to the Philippines Jaideep Majumdar said:

“There are discussions going on a range of weapons systems between India and the Philippines. Once travel becomes possible, the joint committee that looks at defense logistics will meet discuss these things.”

The Philippines Department of National Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that the acquisition of the missile would mark “the first Philippine weaponry with deterrent capability.” 

File:President Rodrigo Roa Duterte chats with Indian Prime Minister  Narendra Modi during the Republic Day Parade.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
resident Rodrigo Roa Duterte chats with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the Republic Day Parade – Wikimedia Commons

The Indian-Russian joint venture missile has faced troubles exporting the missile. If the deal goes through, it would mark the first export deal for the missile as New Delhi has been trying to secure buyers including Vietnam for years but hasn’t seen any success yet.

India has been in talks with the ASEAN nations for a long time over the export of BrahMos missiles and experts are predicting that New Delhi should be able to make inroads into the South-East Asian nations as pressure from China mounts.

In the last few years, India has exported personal protective items or bulletproof gear and armor plating for military vehicles to the Philippines.

During the meeting on Friday, the co-chairs reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening cooperation against shared challenges, particularly in the health sector to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jaishankar also highlighted that the meeting focused on taking forward cooperation in trade and investment, defense, education, ICT, and space.

“Also discussed our shared interest in visa liberalization. Underlined our convergence on Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative and ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific,” he said in a tweet.

The Indian Ministry also thanked the educational opportunities provided by the Philippines to Indian students reaffirming India’s development and capacity-building assistance to the Philippines. India also welcomed Filipino students, scholars, and academicians to avail of the ITEC and e-ITEC initiatives and make use of integrated Ph.D. Fellowships offered to ASEAN students at IITs.