New Delhi: The purchase of BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles from India by the Philippines is only the beginning of a partnership, Antonio Morales , undersecretary in the foreign ministry (the Indian equivalent is deputy minister) told TIMESNOW today.

The $375 million deal has been welcomed by the military, the government and the people of the Philippines and will help in the modernisation of the military of the Philippines, undersecretary Morales said. The modernisation process, courtesy of India, could continue, he said, calling for “more and more talks” and “further deals to strengthen the modernisation process.”

Another sign of the growing closeness between the two countries is the likely visit by the Indian navy chief, Admiral R Hari Kumar, to Manila very soon. Morales spoke of the need for maritime cooperation and the need for peace and security in the Indo-Pacific. The security links between the two countries had potential, he said.

Many of the “challenges” the Philippines face is because of China , Morales said. China has made artificial islands in the South China Sea and built airstrips in them. “This doesn’t change the legal status of the region and the sovereign rights of the Philippines” to its EEZ. He hoped China would stop militarising the islands.

Morales spoke of China as a major power and mentioned its economy would be bigger than that of the United States earlier than previously imagined. Beijing is Manila’s biggest trading partner. China has major stakes in the economy of the Philippines, including its electric grid. In fact, incoming President Ferdinand “Bong Bong” Marcos has spoken of a special relationship with China.

The relationship with Beijing was also a challenge. There are areas of difference, he said and hoped the differences don’t stand in the way of a wider relationship. “When we differ, we differ with respect and resolve.” The Philippines had sought international arbitration and won, but China has refused to accept the verdict. He hoped the rule of law would prevail and accepting it would benefit China, he felt. “I hope China will reconsider its position on the South China Sea,” he added.

Representing the Philippines in Delhi for the India-ASEAN conference (his country doesn’t have a foreign minister as yet), he spoke of the new areas of cooperation including digitalisation and connectivity and also, of maintaining peace and security in the Indo-Pacific, access to traditional sea routes, upholding rule of law and accepting international legal verdicts. He appreciated India’s position on the issue.

Morales said the decision by the Quad (India, Australia, Japan and the United States) to affirm ASEAN ’s centrality in the region was welcome as was its plan to distribute vaccines equitably. Multilateral cooperation to fight pandemics was the way forward, he added.

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