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Grey-Zone Warfare: India’s export of BrahMos missile to the Philippines a credible strategic move against Chinese aggression

Source: The Times of India 

Grey-Zone Warfare: India’s export of BrahMos missile to the Philippines a credible strategic move against Chinese aggression
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The Philippines recently revealed that it will become the first foreign buyer of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile. This is a huge development in the context of the growing pushback against China’s aggressive tactics spanning from East Asia to the Himalayas. The BrahMos– jointly developed by India and Russia – is said to be the fastest supersonic cruise missile. The Philippines is reportedly interested in acquiring the shore-based version of the missile which clearly indicates Manila’s desire to counter Beijing’s assertive manoeuvres in the South China Sea. After all, the Chinese maritime militia has been constantly harassing neighbouring Southeast Asian nations, even in the latter’s Exclusive Economic Zones.

As is well known, China has maritime disputes with several of its Asean neighbours in the South China Sea. In fact, almost all of South China Sea is claimed by Beijing as per its expansive Nine Dash Line cartographic innovation. However, this was rejected by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016. But that didn’t stop China from militarising South China Sea islands, creating artificial islands and unilaterally exerting its territorial and maritime claims in the region.

This has come at a time when China has taken an overall assertive, nationalistic turn under current President Xi Jinping, pressing out on all fronts. And that in turn is part of Xi’s revisionist policies to strengthen and preserve the authority of the Chinese Communist Party at a time when Chinese society and economy have evolved faster than anyone had expected. In other words, Xi is using nationalism to once again centralise power within the party-state system and prolong the life of the Chinese Communist Party, and prevent China from facing a similar fate as that of the erstwhile Soviet Union.

But this course of action directly pits China against its neighbours. Which explains tensions in recent years between China and Japan (East China Sea), China and Asean (South China Sea), China and India (Line of Actual Control), and of course China and the US. However, finally affected nations are beginning to coordinate and push back. Platforms such as the Quad (India, US, Japan and Australia) and AUKUS (Australia, UK and US) exemplify this point. And it is in this context that the Philippines’ purchase of the BrahMos missile from India needs to be seen.

Interestingly, the Philippines has actually done a U-turn on China in recent years. It was promised investments worth $24 billion by Beijing in 2016. However, only a small fraction of that amount has materialised. Manila now asks Beijing to respect the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling on the South China Sea amid China’s strong-arm tactics in the region. India, on the other hand, is locked in a border standoff with China since the summer of 2020. So from New Delhi’s and Manila’s point of view, the Indian export of the BrahMos missile to the Philippines is a good strategic counter to Chinese aggression.

And this contract could in turn facilitate similar exports of the BrahMos to other Asean nations like Indonesia and Vietnam that have already expressed interest. What could then emerge is a solid defence linkage between India and key Asean nations with obvious implications for Beijing. Needless to say, this is required if China is to be compelled to back down. Also, no one expects an escalation to actual full-blown military conflict given the strong economic interdependencies. After all, Asean has joined the RCEP trade agreement with China. Even India-China trade hit a record high of $125 billion in 2021. But it’s clear that we have entered an era of grey-zone warfare with China where military manoeuvres, posturing and low-intensity clashes will continue below the threshold of all-out war. And that’s precisely what India and likeminded Asean nations are preparing for with deals like BrahMos.

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