Taking a strong stance against China's "expansionist" attitude following the release of its 2023 standard map, India is seeing the need to bolster its defense and maritime security partnership with the Philippines as both countries depend on peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.
Indian Ambassador to the Philippines Shambhu Kumaran said Friday, Sep. 1, that India "would like to expand the navy engagement" between New Delhi and Manila because both have "high" and "common" stakes in the region.
"I do see the possibility of greater engagement in the maritime domain. As to what it will take, we have to depend on the evolution of the situation," he said in a meeting with the press.
He suggested that India "should have more ships coming in the future" to the Philippines.
Kumaran's pronouncement came as India joined this year several other countries in supporting the Philippines and calling on China to adhere to international law amid the latter's continued illegal claim over the West Philippine Sea, a part of the bigger South China Sea.
"We do subscribe to the view that there has to be an adherence to the rules-based order and that there cannot be coercion; that any dispute that exists should be solved peacefully through means of dialogue," he said.
"And anything that deviates from this, I think, unites all of us, especially like-minded countries, democracies, such as India and the Philippines," he added.
India, which shares border with China, also has territorial dispute with the latter, which has put the relations of both countries in "difficult phase," according to Kumaran.
Just recently, Beijing released its 2023 standard map, which lays claim to the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh and the Aksai Chin Plateau as well as to the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan.
"We reject this effort [of including other territories in their map]... I would express my solidarity with the sentiment in the Philippines with regard to the said effort that I would call cartographic expansionism," Kumaran said.
The Philippines, India, Malaysia and Vietnam have already expressed their rejection of the 2023 standard map of China. Indonesia, Brunei and Taiwan have yet to issue their position as of press time.
The coast guards of the Philippines and India recently held their first-ever bilateral talks, which aimed at discussing efforts to ensure safe and secure seas through boosting maritime ties, and discussed cooperation on maritime law enforcement, search and rescue and pollution response.
But the Indian diplomat said New Delhi's action is "not attributable" to the current situation in the Indo-Pacific or to the action of any country.
"I think it's natural growth of our maritime security, on the broader security partnership. Being maritime nations, both India and the Philippines, naturally suggested that," he said.
Kumaran said it is "very logical that large countries and fellow democracies," like India and the Philippines, to build a defense partnership "because of belief that strengthening our national security capabilities will bring greater stability."
India also wants to see a continued freedom of navigation, he said, amid incidents of harassments in the waters.
"The recent developments [in the South China Sea] have helped to focus more attention on the issue. But definitely, I would hesitate to describe our relationship as purely reacting or responding from developments that have been happening," he added.