India-Philippines Defense Ties: Strengthening Partnership In Indo-Pacific – OpEd


India is emerging as an important player in the strategic landscape of Southeast Asia. India has effectively initiated a weapons agreement, heightened regional political dynamics, demonstrated solidarity with the Philippines in its territorial conflicts with China in the South China Sea, and enhanced military collaboration with it.

The assertive actions taken by China in the South China Sea and its surrounding region have prompted a growing defense alignment between India and the Philippines, despite the historical inclination of the Philippines to maintain a neutral geopolitical stance.

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has made notable progress in strengthening its strategic partnerships with the Philippines to ensure a free and stable Indo-Pacific region after the initial proclamation of the ‘Act East policy’. In this regard, the governments of India and the Philippines have expressed intentions to enhance their defense collaboration following the official visit of Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique A. Manalo to India. This development suggests a strengthening of bilateral relations between India and the Philippines.

In 2019, a collaborative naval exercise took place in the South China Sea with the participation of India, Japan, the Philippines, and the United States. In 2021, the Indian Navy engaged in bilateral exercises with the Philippines. In April, during the fourth session of high-level defense conversations between India and the Philippines, an agreement was reached to enhance and expand defense cooperation between the two nations. This agreement reflected a mutual commitment to strengthen defense ties.

In 2022, a significant agreement was reached between the Philippines and India, where the former expressed its intention to procure BrahMos missiles from the latter. The Indian envoy in the Philippines urged India to explore the possibility of a preferential trade pact with the Philippines to improve bilateral ties. In a notable development highlighting the increasing emphasis on defense, the Philippines procured three batteries of the BrahMos cruise missile from India through a previously negotiated agreement worth $375 million. In addition, coast guard and naval forces from India and the Philippines have enhanced military collaboration, exchanged white shipping data, cooperated in hydrographic areas, and conducted port visits.

In 2023, the Philippines enhanced its military cooperation with India. The Philippines and India both express shared apprehensions regarding China’s assertive and aggressive conduct in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, where both countries have territorial disputes and significant strategic interests. Both the Philippines and India are democratic countries that uphold international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 Arbitral Award on the South China Sea.

Additionally, they value the rules-based system of the Indo-Pacific. To mitigate the growing influence and power of China in the region, the United States actively promotes collaboration between the Philippines and India, both of which are considered strategic allies. The recent developments illustrate the increasing significance of the Philippines as a crucial partner for India in military and security affairs within Southeast Asia.

Additionally, India has extended an offer to provide the Philippines with a Line of Credit (LoC) to support its military needs. The growing recognition of India’s role as a military collaborator within the region is proof of its growing significance in regional affairs. This acknowledgment will effectively communicate significant signals in various ways. Furthermore, it is undeniable that the engagement between India and the Philippines will yield significant strategic indications for the Indo-Pacific.

Due to a shared goal of upholding security in the Indo-Pacific region, the Philippines and India have increased their defense cooperation in recent years. This partnership has extended beyond the provision of BrahMos missiles, a collaborative endeavor between India and Russia, to encompass various defense-related initiatives. By the end of 2023, India will deliver its BrahMos supersonic cruise missile to the Philippines as its first purchaser. This step marked the initiation of enhanced defense collaboration.

Both parties also pledged to enhance their military collaboration through increased communication channels between defense institutions and the deployment of an Indian defense attaché to Manila. There are several compelling justifications for the establishment of a military and security alliance between India and the Philippines.

Firstly, the primary objective of establishing such a relationship would be to enhance the visibility of India’s commitment to actively participate in the major security architecture of the Indo-Pacific region. Secondly, aligned with India’s Act East Policy, it will enhance the facilitation of India’s bilateral relations with other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Lastly, the establishment of this alliance would facilitate the cultivation of a norm characterized by mutual trust within the region, with India and the Philippines assuming an active and engaged role.

From a geopolitical perspective, the inclusion of the quadrilateral framework comprising the United States, Japan, Australia, and the Philippines aligns with India’s strategic planning and bolsters its endeavors to enhance its influence in Indo-Pacific. Also, India wants to incorporate the South East Asian nations that are in the domain of this region. The current discourse between the Philippines and India pertains to a potential agreement for the procurement of additional BrahMos missiles. This development underscores India’s escalating significance as a military provider within the Southeast Asian region.

The Philippines’ expressed interest in acquiring contemporary defensive technology from India can be attributed to the prevailing tensions in the South China Sea. Moreover, the Philippines considered this procurement as a part of military modernization, and the development of capabilities was deemed an essential prerequisite for regional security. Despite the persistent challenges arising from the territorial dispute in the South China Sea, the Philippines and China maintain a robust bilateral relationship. It is characterized by elements of both collaboration and competition. Also, India has effectively managed its interactions with China, thereby exhibiting a keen understanding of the delicate nature of these matters.

The enhanced defense relations between India and the Philippines may be perceived as provocative by China. To uphold an Indo-Pacific region characterized by principles of liberty, transparency, and inclusivity, the heightened defense cooperation between these nations can be perceived as a collective endeavor. The Philippines has expressed a keen interest in establishing a substantial defense alliance with India and has demonstrated a strong inclination toward procuring additional military equipment. The formation of this recent collaboration will serve as a catalyst for India and the Philippines to further enhance their military cooperation in the South China Sea, which has already witnessed notable Chinese advancements in recent times. The primary objective of this collaborative alliance is to uphold equilibrium within the immediate geographical vicinity and on a global scale.

In concluding remarks, it can be added that India’s substantial influence in the Indo-Pacific region has led to the recognition of the Philippines’ significance in the South China Sea, thereby establishing its continued involvement in shaping the future of the region. This will enhance the existing bilateral relations and deepen the defense ties further.

Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma

Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma is a Research Associate at the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD). She is a research analyst in security studies. She obtained her Master's and Bachelor's in International Relations from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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