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To counter China, invest in regional deterrence

Source : Hindustan Times

To counter China, invest in regional deterrence
External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar with MEA delegations met with his counter Foreign Minister of the Philippines Govt Mr. Teodoro L Locsin Jr and the whole Philippino Foreign Department officials in Manila (File Photo)

Minister of external affairs S Jaishankar’s first three-day visit (February 13 to 15) to the Philippines marks the beginning of a new era of shared priorities and concerns of the two democracies in the Indo-Pacific region. The $375-million deal to export the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile to the Philippines figured prominently in his meeting with his counterpart, Teodoro L Locsin Jr, and the defence secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

Philippines Defence secretary Delfin Lorenzana and India's envoy to the Philippines, Ambassador Shambhu S Kumaran formally signed the $375 million BrahMos missile deal in Manial last month

The deal is for three batteries of the supersonic missile system; each battery comprises two missile launchers, a radar and a command-and-control centre, and can fire two missiles within 10 seconds. This supersonic missile, an India-Russia joint venture, can be launched from submarines, ships, aircraft, or from land platforms.

To promote peace and security in the region, it is critical to strengthen engagement in defence capabilities, invest in capacity-building, maritime security and counter-terrorism and advocating the rule of law. In his speech at the Chiefs of Air Staff Conclave earlier in the month, defence minister Rajnath Singh said that the deteriorating geopolitical landscape requires strengthening of security frameworks, based on the principles of cooperation, collaboration and coexistence. Seen in this backdrop, the BrahMos deal is India’s first export of this critical strategic weapon system, which will have significant strategic implications.

This deal repositions India in two strategic perspectives:

One, internally, India’s strong response and the position taken in the standoff with China at the Galwan Valley and subsequent build-up, have reassured the country and smaller regional nations of our resolve to challenge China’s territorial ambitions and our willingness to share our capabilities with them. India’s resolve adds immensely to the global message that China’s coercive diplomacy or strategy against fragile, weak or failed states in the region will not work. And that a credible regional stand against China is possible .

BrahMos supersonic cruise missile coastal battery unity on display

Two, in its role as a regional security provider, this deal reflects the larger strategic outreach in pursuit of regional stability by strengthening the security architecture in Southeast Asia.

China’s aggressive policy to unilaterally settle territorial disputes with Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia by the outrageous nine-dash line, 2,000 km away from China’s coastline, and Beijing’s rejection of the International Court of Justice’s ruling demonstrated China’s writ in the region.

The Philippines sees BrahMos as a deterrence against any attempt to undermine sovereign rights of the country. Mischief Reef (217 km from Palawan Island), Chinese naval presence around Scarborough Shoal (222 km west of Luzon), Subi Reef and the Fiery Cross Reef are now in BrahMos range of 290 km. Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia have also shown interest in acquiring the anti-ship missile, and could get these systems shortly.

The BrahMos adds a new dimension towards evolving the much-needed idea of a collective regional deterrence to challenge arbitrary actions as the nine-dash line. India’s successful test-firing of next-generation hypersonic BrahMos 2 missile (7 Mach and extended ranges) will, in due course, enable a potent collective deterrence. The tacit approval of Southeast Asian countries to AUKUS is also seen as a bid to balance China’s growing influence in the South China Sea region.

The Philippines’ defence ministry recently welcomed this deal as part of HORIZON 2, the nation’s security modernsation programme that has been underway from 2020, as a critical value addition for the nation’s effective deterrence to secure its proximal maritime region.

China’s encirclement of Thitu Island, one of the largest of the Philippines’ Spratly Islands, by hundreds of coast guard and fishing militia boats, the hostile pursuit of the Philippines’ naval ship within its own waters, and the declaration of administrative control over the disputed islands have seriously raised China’s threats to the Philippines.

China’s provocative deployment of geological survey vessel– Haiyang Dizhi– and coast guards, which has disrupted oil exploration projects by India and Vietnam, aggravates the challenge at the regional level.

President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte’s September 23, 2020, speech at the United Nations General Assembly reiterated the nation’s need for its long-standing security ally, the United States. Furthermore, a rare projection of its missile power in the disputed maritime region by large-scale military exercises (Eksesais Kerismas and Eksesais Taming Sari) by the Royal Malaysian Navy in the South China Sea also clearly went against former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s Doctrine of Indonesia-China relations.

India and the Association of South East Asian Nations are in their eighth year of strategic partnership, and 28th year of relations. The presence of the entire ASEAN leadership on India’s Republic Day in 2019 reflected the strategic depth and trust among these nations and was an affirmation of India’s Act East Policy.

The need for a credible regional security architecture to curb China’s brazen coercive diplomacy and expansive policies afflicting ASEAN members is indeed urgent. Regional Deterrence will be the new imperative, the new counter-narrative to China’s irresponsible conduct. The acquisition of BrahMos by Vietnam, Indonesia will add immensely to credible regional deterrence.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of India’s role of being the net security provider in the Indian Ocean Region is now taking shape. As a result, India’s relationship with ASEAN, a key cornerstone of our foreign policy, may be finally consolidated by addition of this critical security dimension that ASEAN members have sought from India’s leadership for a long time.

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