India and Philippines strengthen ties amid South China Sea tensions

New Delhi, June 29 (ANI): External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar meets with Philippines Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo, in New Delhi on Thursday. They will hold the 5th India-Philippines Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC). (ANI Photo)

India and the Philippines have announced plans to commence negotiations on a bilateral preferential trade agreement, while also vowing to intensify their defence cooperation in the wake of China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea. These decisions came during extensive talks between Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Philippine counterpart, Enrique A Manalo, signalling an upward trajectory in defence and security ties between the two nations.
The two countries also emphasised the need to implement the 2016 United Nations (UN) arbitration court’s South China Sea verdict. This ruling, awarded in favour of Manila in its case against China’s territorial claims, has been dismissed by Beijing despite global pressure. The South China Sea, a vital source of hydrocarbons, has become a hotbed of international disputes with China’s sweeping claims of sovereignty countered by several regional countries, including Vietnam, the Philippines, and Brunei.
The enhanced focus on defence was underscored by a $375 million deal concluded last year, under which the Philippines procured three batteries of the BrahMos cruise missile from India. Both sides expressed a strong desire to continue cooperating in the defence sector, including the potential establishment of a defence attaché office in Manila, and India’s offer for a concessional Line of Credit to satisfy the Philippines’ defence needs.
The joint statement released after the talks highlighted the shared interest of both countries in maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific. It emphasised peaceful settlement of disputes and adherence to international law, specifically the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the arbitral award on the South China Sea.
In addition to defence, the dialogue prioritised enhancing bilateral ties in counter-terrorism, health, and trade. In the fiscal year 2022-23, bilateral trade crossed the $3 billion mark for the first time, spurring both sides to explore further avenues for economic engagement.
Among the broad spectrum of discussed areas, connectivity expansion, tourism growth, trade and investment facilitation, and people-to-people exchanges were emphasised. An early negotiation for a bilateral mutual legal assistance treaty on criminal matters and a treaty on the transfer of sentenced persons were also encouraged.
India and the Philippines also agreed to collaborate at the United Nations for tangible outcomes on UN Security Council reforms. They concurred on the urgent need for expanding both permanent and non-permanent categories of membership, along with reforms of the council’s working methods.
During the meeting, Manalo, who was on a four-day visit to India, expressed the Philippines’ desire to forge a “very robust” defence partnership with India and its interest in procuring additional military hardware.