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Monday Morning Meeting Report: The Evolving Dynamics in India-Philippines Defence and Security Relations

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  • February 05, 2024
    Monday Morning Meeting
    1030 to 1300 hrs

    Dr. Temjenmeren Ao, Associate Fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, made a presentation on “The Evolving Dynamics in India-Philippines Defence and Security Relations” at the Monday Morning Meeting held on 5 February 2024. The session was moderated by Ms. Shruti Pandalai, Associate Fellow, MP-IDSA. Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy, Director General, MP-IDSA and the scholars of MP-IDSA attended the meeting.

    Executive Summary

    The Republic of the Philippines constitutes an important part of India’s outreach to the Southeast Asian nations since the implementation of the Look East Policy. As India and Philippines complete 75 years of diplomatic ties, new avenues for cooperation have emerged in the current era of geopolitical flux. The developmental trajectory of the two Asian states as well as legitimate maritime security concerns have contributed to the intensification of bilateral relations. The India-Philippines defence and security relationship includes diverse areas of cooperation from joint naval exercises, to capacity building initiatives, regular exchange of views through various dialogue mechanisms and trade in high-tech military hardware. The Marcos Jr. administration seeks to engage with partners such as Japan, India, and France, among others, to counter Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea. Therefore, there exists vast potential for further engagement especially in the domain of maritime security and defence industry cooperation.

    Detailed Report

    The session commenced with opening remarks by Ms. Shruti Pandalai on the recent developments in the India-Philippines defence relationship. Ms. Pandalai made reference to the sale of US $374.96 million worth BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles, expected to be delivered to Philippines by March 2024; extension of a line of credit for defence sales; and the expected posting of India’s defence attaché to Manila. As part of India’s ongoing Long Range Operational Deployment (LROD), INS Kadmatt, a domestically designed and produced anti-submarine warfare (ASW) corvette, was deployed in Manila in December 2023. The ASW corvette took part in a joint exercise with the Philippine Navy’s offshore partol vessel (OPV) BRP Ramon Alcaraz. This intensification of ties was contrasted with a deterioration in Philippines-China relations amid the looming threat of accidental escalation in the South China Sea. Ms. Pandalai noted that several experts are sceptical regarding the ability of the under-equipped Philippine Coast Guard and Navy to hold their own against the PRC’s maritime might. However, the U.S. defence treaty obligations to the Philippines bolster the Philippine defence in the South China Sea, thereby increasing the stakes for the PRC.

    Dr. Ao commenced his presentation with a brief outline of the India-Philippines relationship, given the completion of 75 years of diplomatic ties between the two Asian nations. He elucidated that the two states formally established diplomatic relations on 26 November 1949. The geopolitical context of the Cold War dynamics, with a pro-US Philippines and a non-aligned India, hindered the strengthening of the relationship. India’s increased engagement with Southeast Asia post-Cold War, through the formulation of its Look East Policy, worked towards establishment of unique and diverse relationships within the region.

    According to Dr. Ao, India’s concerns vis-à-vis the evolving security environment in the Indo-Pacific, as manifest in initiatives such as SAGAR and IPOI, and the Act East Policy, remain limited to maintaining a favourable balance of power in the region. The Philippines approach to the region is routed through ASEAN’s 2019 policy document “ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific” (AOIP). Peace, stability, and predictability are therefore the priorities of Philippines.  The emerging convergences from the geopolitical and geo-economic flux in the region have led to recalibration of relations between external actors (such as India, USA, and China) and Southeast Asian states like the Republic of Philippines. 

    Noting the upward trajectory in the India-Philippines bilateral defence relations Dr. Ao highlighted the importance of the BrahMos deal in furthering defence and security ties. Defence relations, although relatively substantive, had hitherto remained rather basic.  The roadmap for defence ties was laid at the first India-Philippines Security Dialogue in 2004, held in Manila. Subsequently, an Agreement for Defence Cooperation was signed in 2006- elevating ties to the strategic level. Establishment of a Joint Defence Cooperation Committee (JDCC) followed, with its first meeting in 2012. The contemporary security relationship between the two is driven by the common pursuit of maritime security, which has gained prominence, with increasing navy-to-navy and coastguard visits and exercises being undertaken.

    Dr. Ao argued that the strain in China’s relationship with the Philippines, given the former’s aggression in the South China Sea, has worked to India’s favour. He explored the deterioration in Philippines-China ties through a comparison of the present and previous political dispensation’s handling of Chinese activity in the West Philippine Sea. The Rodrigo Duterte Government had sought a rapprochement with the PRC in the hope of attracting economic investments from the Asian giant amid tensions emanating from the 2016 Arbitral Award. President Marcos Jr., on the contrary, has been a vocal supporter of the 2016 ruling even prior to assuming office. Although there was speculation that Marcos would adopt a balanced approach, increased Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea has caused friction between the Philippines Government and the PRC. Dr. Ao noted that the joint statement issued at the 5th India-Philippines Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation (2023), is significant as India for the first time explicitly endorsed the 2016 Arbitral Award ruling in favour of Manila. India’s change of stance from a neutral position on the issue, to exhibiting a more outspoken and proactive position on the South China Sea toda, stems not only from ongoing tension with China in the LAC but is also rooted in its need to preserve peace and stability in the region.

    Increasing Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea has also led to increased US-Philippines defence cooperation. The United States was granted access to four more military bases in the Philippines in 2023 and both sides have increased their joint military exercises.  The two states also held their second joint patrol earlier this year.  Being strategic allies, the US has repeatedly stated that any attack on Philippines, in the South China Sea would invoke the 1951 Mutual Defence Treaty and therefore obligate Washington to defend Manila militarily. Dr. Ao also made mention of Japan’s Reciprocal Access Agreement negotiations with the Government of Philippines.

    Dr. Temjenmeren Ao concluded that the defence and security relationship between India and Philippines is on an upward trajectory. He argued that the BrahMos deal is significant for India’s ties with Philippines and the larger region. In his assessment, it could lead to exports of other indigenous military hardware to Manila, and possibly diversify the market to include other Southeast Asian nations.

    Questions and Comments

    Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy, Director General MP-IDSA, complimented Dr. Ao for his presentation on a topical issue. He remarked on the role of the Philippines as a lynchpin of America’s projected power in the Indo-Pacific. According to him, the question that arises is therefore of whether the United States can continue to project said power in the region without the support of the Philippines.  Amb. Chinoy also discussed the strain in the bilateral relationship between China and the Philippines amid encroachments by Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea. He stated that the US ambiguity and the inconsistent approach of the Philippines towards China warrants a discussion on whether the Philippines can launch a sustainable opposition to the PRC. The Director General further questioned whether the Marcos-Duterte discord will have ramifications that could work in China’s favour. With reference to the evolving India-Philippines relationship, Amb. Chinoy stated that cooperation between the two nations is a given in the current geopolitical context. He suggested counter-terrorism as an avenue of security cooperation given the recent spate of terror attacks in the Philippines. 

    The MP-IDSA scholars posed a wide array of questions ranging from possible linkages between the Maoist movements in India and the Philippines, to the shipment of BrahMos batteries. Reference was made to prevalence of piracy and drug smuggling routes in the Malacca Strait and South China Sea. The possibility of policy change in a post-Marcos era was discussed. 

    Dr. Temjenmeren Ao provided insightful answers to the questions and comments raised by the Director General and the MP-IDSA scholars. 

    Report prepared by Ms. Aditi Dhaundiyal, Intern, Southeast Asia and Oceania Centre, MP-IDSA.