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Enemy's Enemy is My Friend : The Philippines following this principle in its relationship with India, to snub enemy China

Source : Manila Times

Enemy's Enemy is My Friend : The Philippines following this principle in its relationship with India, in regard to its enemy China
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INDIA’s Act East policy seems to be taking strides in matching the rhetoric its foreign policy establishment has put out for so long. More particularly, India has engaged with partners in the Pacific where potential for strategic cooperation was, for many reasons, unexploited. The Philippines is one such Asean country with which India’s recent engagements have seen considerable improvement.

India and the Philippines are both vibrant democracies with large demographic capacities. The strategic calculations in Manila seem to have found New Delhi willing in maintaining the regional Indo-Pacific balance of power and deepening bilateral relations for mutual growth.

Recent developments

The Philippines has decided to buy at least seven Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) and eight Dornier 228 aircraft from India. Both countries also signed the “Implementing Agreement” in March, 2021 which will facilitate arms purchases between them. Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had conveyed that his country was interested in buying the BrahMos missiles from India.

In 2020, the Philippines’ Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar chaired a joint commission on bilateral cooperation and decided to strengthen defense engagements, maritime cooperation and defense training. They also agreed to cooperate on counter-terrorism and information sharing, among other different areas such as tourism. India’s INS Ranvijay and INS Kora were deployed in the Pacific in August 2021 for a maritime partnership exercise with the Philippines’ BRP Antonio Luna in the West Philippine Sea. Many operational maneuvers in the exercise allowed for greater interoperability between the two navies.

The Philippines Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has been coordinating with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) to promote bilateral trade and business ties. A preferential trade agreement (PTA) between the two countries, which will boost the value and volume of bilateral trade, may soon see the light of the day. Last year, the Philippines’ imports from India stood at $1.51 billion and exports to India amounted to $547.98 million. Philippine Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said that there was huge potential for greater economic exchange between the two countries.

Strategic convergence

The ups and downs in the Philippines’ relationship with Beijing has been commented upon by analysts worldwide. But the conflict over territorial claims in their adjoining maritime region is still a bone of contention. The increasingly assertive position that China has taken in the South China Sea since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has worried Southeast Asian countries, and naturally also shot up concerns in Manila. The Duterte administration, which was set on improving ties with China and could even have been perceived as anti-US many times, began to mend relations with Washington last year. The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the US and the Philippines is a foundational security arrangement which allows presence of US troops on Philippine soil. President Duterte has suspended the termination of the VFA in the interest of Philippine security, citing “great power competition” in the region.

The Philippines’ curve back to the US is a strategic development for Indo-Pacific countries like India. Manila has shown that in matters of security it is still conjoined with traditional allies. It has also expressed interest in buying BrahMos missiles from India, which will be its first deterrent capability against China. It may be speculated that given the common anxieties regarding China’s conduct in its neighboring areas, the Philippines could find more alignment with the Quad countries.

Multi-alignment

What brings the Philippines and India together?

Friendship among nations is based on shared history and culture, or a common threat. India and the Philippines may be concerned about the threat to freedom of maritime space in the Indo-Pacific region and a rules-based international order. Hence, a growing bonhomie between New Delhi and Manila may not be very surprising. From the viewpoint of their foreign relations, however, there is an interesting observation.

India has shifted from its policy of non-alignment during the Cold War to a more pragmatic policy of multi-alignment today, suited to a globalized world. Meanwhile, the Philippines, in the past couple of years, has hinted that it may not be pressed to choose one camp against the other. This stance of not becoming overly dependent on one country, and exercising autonomy to engage with multiple powers based on national and security interests, probably explains the increasing pull Manila has created for New Delhi.

Although bilateral involvement is robust for now, the security environment in Asia is volatile to say the least. It may be essential to create formal channels of dialogue between important political and bureaucratic officials of the Philippines and India in order to sustain this engagement, and translate it into deeper strategic agreement. A more transparent conversation about China and the evolving security situation in the South China Sea may be aptly suited to the bilateral agenda. For both India and the Philippines, engaging with China is more or less obvious if not explicitly desirable. But they may work together to express to Beijing that their territorial sovereignty must be respected, and disputes resolved amicably.

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