Updated May 23rd, 2024 at 22:25 IST

Indian Navy’s Port Call to the Philippines Highlights India's Role in South China Sea Peace Efforts

This visit underscores the robust diplomatic and defense relations between India and the Philippines.

Reported by: Yuvraj Tyagi
The visit is set against a backdrop of rising tensions between China and the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal. | Image:Indian Navy
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Manila: The recent port call by an Indian Navy ship to the Philippines provided an essential platform for discussions on enhancing naval cooperation and interoperability between the two nations. This visit underscores the robust diplomatic and defence relations between India and the Philippines, exemplifying India's commitment to regional peace and stability through its 'Act East' and SAGAR policies.

The visit takes place against a backdrop of escalating tensions between China and the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal. Manila has adopted a more assertive stance in the disputed regions, which lie approximately 220 kilometres off the Philippine coast within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The shoal, a traditional fishing ground for multiple nations, is near vital shipping lanes. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), an EEZ extends about 370 kilometres from a nation's coastline.  

Unified Stance Against Chinese Claims 

China's expansive claims over the South China Sea, which it justifies by rejecting rival claims and an international ruling against its stance, have been a significant source of regional tension. China's claims encompass almost the entire South China Sea, conflicting with those of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam. The recent naval visit by India signifies a deepening of bilateral ties and a unified stand against unilateral maritime claims.  

India and the Philippines established formal diplomatic relations in November 1949, soon after both countries gained independence. Historically, the relationship has been cordial, characterized by regular visits of Indian Navy and Coast Guard ships to the Philippines. These interactions have bolstered mutual trust and cooperation, leading to enhanced participation of military officers in specialized training courses in each other’s countries.  

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Regional Peace and Stability  

The port call is more than a ceremonial gesture; it reflects a strategic alignment in the face of regional challenges. The Indian Navy's presence in the Philippines serves as a reaffirmation of India's strategic intent to contribute to regional security. This move is particularly significant in light of the Philippines' increasing assertiveness in protecting its maritime rights against Chinese claims.

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Additionally, the visit demonstrates India's active role in the Indo-Pacific region, promoting the rule of law and freedom of navigation as envisioned in its 'Act East' and SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) policies. These policies aim to foster economic and security cooperation with Southeast Asian nations, thereby enhancing regional stability and prosperity. 

The collaboration between the Indian and Philippine armed forces extends beyond naval visits. Officers from both countries participate in various specialized training programs, enhancing their operational capabilities and understanding. Furthermore, delegations from their National Defence Colleges regularly visit each other, facilitating the exchange of strategic insights and fostering deeper defence cooperation.  

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The Indian Navy's visit to the Philippines is a powerful symbol of the enduring partnership between the two countries. It highlights their shared commitment to peace, stability, and cooperative security in the Indo-Pacific region. As tensions continue to simmer in the South China Sea, such collaborations are crucial for maintaining a balance of power and ensuring adherence to international maritime laws. 

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Published May 23rd, 2024 at 22:14 IST