Amid China tensions, India delivers supersonic cruise missiles to Philippines 

New Delhi — India has begun delivery of supersonic cruise missiles to the Philippines as the two countries tighten defense and strategic ties amid rising tensions between the East Asian nation and China over maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

The BrahMos missiles are being acquired by the Philippines under a $ 375 million deal signed in 2022.

“Now we are also exporting BrahMos missiles. The first batch of this missile is going to the Philippines today,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Friday at an election rally.

India and Philippines have ramped up defense cooperation as concerns over an increasingly assertive China deepen in both countries.

Tensions between the Philippines and China have escalated over the past year as Beijing, citing historical rights, presses its claims to areas inside Manila’s exclusive economic zone. Efforts to resolve New Delhi’s four-year long military standoff with Beijing along its disputed Himalayan border have made little headway.

In New Delhi, analysts say India wants to be part of a larger pushback against China in the South China Sea as concerns rise over Beijing’s territorial ambitions.

“BrahMos missile delivery to the Philippines is in itself not a game changer. But the idea is that we are part of a broader coalition of countries including the U.S. trying to build up the muscle and shore up the security of smaller countries like the Philippines. It is what we call lattice work strategy,” according to Sreeram Chaulia, dean of the Jindal School of International Affairs.

Tensions between Philippines and Beijing have ratcheted up following recent confrontations between the coastguards and other vessels of the two countries.

China, which claims almost the entire South China Sea, deploys coastguard vessels to patrol what it deems are its waters – besides Philippines, Beijing also has maritime disputes with countries including Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia.

The missiles being supplied by India are produced under a joint venture with Russia. They are a shore-based, anti-ship system with a range of 290 kilometers. Under the deal, India will supply three versions of the missile system, according to domestic media reports in New Delhi.

Philippine National Security Council assistant director general, Jonathan Malaya, told reporters in Manila that the missiles will be deployed by the Philippine Marines.

“This adds an important and practical layer of deterrence for the Philippines amidst its limited military resources vis-a-vis China,” Don McLain Gill, a geopolitical analyst and lecturer at the Department of International Studies, De La Salle University, Manila told VOA in emailed comments. He said the missiles will “bolster its coastal defence to more effectively exercise its sovereignty and sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea at a time when China has been relentlessly pursuing its expansionist ambitions against international law.”

Analysts say building defense cooperation with the Philippines also signals that New Delhi is now moving beyond the Indian Ocean to contribute to maintaining stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

During a visit to Manila last month, Indian foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar reiterated “India’s support to the Philippines for upholding its national sovereignty.”

Asserting that both countries have a “very deep interest” in ensuring a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific Ocean, his Philippine counterpart, Enrique Manalo, said that “it’s in this region and it is in this context that we are having extensive discussions regularly on defense cooperation, security cooperation.”

An Indian coast guard ship visited the Philippines during the Indian minister’s visit. The two countries are also expected to hold more joint naval drills.

“India is also a close security partner of Manila’s key strategic partners, such as the U.S, Japan, and Australia. This makes it even more practical for the Philippines to strengthen ties with India,” pointed out Don McLain Gill.

India had for many years been hesitant about exporting the BrahMos missiles, believing that advanced defense cooperation with countries like the Philippines with which China has disputes would rile Beijing, but analysts say New Delhi has reversed course. India has also been steadily building military ties with Vietnam, which is also embroiled in maritime disputes with China.

“As our dispute with the Chinese is not settling, there is a clear change of mind on the part of the Indian government and it has decided to assist the security needs of countries like the Philippines in a very concrete way,” said Chaulia. “From our point of view, this helps to send a clear signal to the Chinese that they cannot be arming our adversaries like Pakistan with advanced weapons and defense technology and expect that we will not reciprocate.”

The delivery of the missiles to the Philippines marks India’ s first export of the missile systems. India, which imports most of its own arms, is a marginal exporter of military equipment, but has been trying to build a defense industry.

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