Eyeing to balance China's increasing aggression in the South China Sea (SCS) region, the Philippine Defence Minister has announced that India has expressed its intent to carry out navigation activities in the South China Sea.
Addressing an online forum last week, Defence Minister Delfin Lorenzana said navigation in the South China Sea is open to all countries. "We do not prevent other countries from passing through or doing things there in the South China Sea. The British do passes through the South China Sea. The French, all other countries. We do not invite them to come," he said, adding India can also be present in the area.
Lorenzana further alleged that China's naval exercises in the South China Sea are a cause for a concern.
China is upping the ante in the SCS region and its ties with the Philippines may now run into rough weather. The moves are being made simultaneously with Beijing’s belligerence along LAC and despite ASEAN strong emphasis on UNCLOS in SCS.
Last Friday the Philippine Foreign Minister warned China of “the severest response” if ongoing Chinese military exercises in the disputed South China Sea spill over into Philippine territory.
The announcement by the Philippine Defence Minister comes amid telephonic conversation between PM Narendra Modi and Philippine president following which India decided to expand its strategic partnership with Philippines in South China Sea region. Last year navies from India, USA, Philippines and Japan conducted joint sail in the South China Sea region to demonstrate presence of like-minded parties in the SCS region.
Modi’s recent conversation with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is significant as it opens up the possibility of wider Indo-Pacific partnership between Delhi and Manila in the backdrop of China’s tough posturing along the LAC and South China Sea region.
On that occasion both leaders had shared satisfaction in its bilateral relationship, including defense cooperation, with Modi noting how India sees the Philippines as a “vital partner” in the Indo-Pacific region. The Philippines also expressed similar sentiments, ET has learnt. The Philippine President in fact wanted India to play a bigger role in the Indo-Pacific region.
As part of growing defence partnership Philippine Navy Chief Giovanni Carlo J. Bacordo recently praised the Indian Navy for helping out one of its navy ship after a fire broke out in the engine room which injured two Philippines navy personnel.
Fire had broken in Philippines' ship BRP Ramon Alcaraz on May 7. India not only repaired the ship free of cost at the Navy Shipyard in Kochi but took care of the both the personnel in Indian hospitals.
The mainstay of bilateral defence cooperation continues to be capacity building and training, exchange visits of delegations and naval and coast guard ship visits. India has also extended Line of Credit to the Philippines in the defence sector.