India supports Philippines’ sovereignty, says Jaishankar, sparking response from China

External Affairs Minister’s Manila visit comes as tensions between the Philippines and Chinese navies rose to new levels; China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says maritime disputes are issues between countries concerned and third parties have no right to interfere

March 26, 2024 01:03 pm | Updated 11:08 pm IST - Manila

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar (left) shakes hands with Philippines’ Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo after holding a joint press conference at the Sofitel Hotel in Manila on March 26, 2024.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar (left) shakes hands with Philippines’ Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo after holding a joint press conference at the Sofitel Hotel in Manila on March 26, 2024. | Photo Credit: AFP

India supports the Philippines’ sovereignty, said External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar in Manila, in comments that sparked a response from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which called on “third countries” not to “interfere”.

Mr. Jaishankar’s visit to Manila on Tuesday, where he met Philippines President Bongbong Marcos and Foreign Minister Enrique Manalo, is part of a three-nation five-day tour to Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia.

“I take this opportunity to firmly reiterate India’s support to the Philippines for upholding its national sovereignty,” said Mr. Jaishankar, reading his opening statement to the media during a joint press conference after talks with Mr. Manalo. He said that the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) was the “the constitution of the seas” and all parties “must adhere to it in its entirety, both in letter and in spirit”, in comments seen as aimed at China, whose Navy and Coast Guard have been frequently accused of violating sovereign waters of other countries and claiming islands. China’s actions have drawn protest from many Asian neighbours, including the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia in the South China Sea (SCS) region.

Every nation has right to uphold its national sovereignty: S Jaishankar on India-Philippines ties

The External Affairs Minister also visited the Indian Coast Guard pollution-control ship ICGS Samudra Paheredar on Tuesday, that is on a port call in Manila until Thursday, and hailed maritime cooperation between the two countries. In a speech he gave on board the Indian ship docked at Manila’s South Harbour, Mr. Jaishankar said that the ship’s visit was “significant”, because it highlighted “shared challenges” that India and Philippines face on oceanic pollution, illegal fishing and protecting the environment in the region. He also underlined the need for “like-minded countries” in the Indo-Pacific region to enhance cooperation.

Mr. Jaishankar’s Manila visit came as tensions between the Philippines and Chinese navies rose to new levels over aggressive maritime moves by the Chinese Coast Guard against a Filipino ship meant to carry supplies to their troops aboard the BRP Sierra Madre ship in the Spratly Islands. On Monday, the Philippines Ministry of Foreign Affairs had summoned the Chinese envoy to protest the actions, including the Chinese Coast Guard ship’s physical blocking of the Philippines ship, firing it with a water cannon that injured three of its soldiers. The Chinese Coast Guard, meanwhile claimed that it was legitimately guarding “Chinese waters” from the “foreign vessel”.

Reacting sharply to Mr. Jaishankar’s comments in Manila within hours, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on India and the Philippines to “respect China’s territorial sovereignty”.

“Maritime disputes are issues between countries concerned. Third parties have no right to interfere whatsoever,” the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Lin Jian said. “We urge relevant parties to squarely face the facts and truth on the South China Sea issue, and respect China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests and the efforts of regional countries to keep the South China Sea peaceful and stable,” he added.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs did not respond to requests for a response to the Chinese MFA’s remarks. Apart from the current controversy, Beijing is understood to be watching India’s sale of Brahmos missiles to the Philippines very closely, deliveries for which are expected to be begin shortly.

During talks with Mr. Manalo, Mr. Jaishankar said he discussed other areas of growing cooperation between the two countries including trade, capacity-building in digital infrastructure, regional issues including the Indo-Pacific, Myanmar, the Ukraine war and cooperation in common fora including the UN and Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). He said he had briefed the Philippines Minister on Indian naval deployment in the Red Sea to counter threats from Houthi militia and piracy. He also highlighted rescue operations, including those where Indian naval personnel have helped Philippines nationals on board ships in distress including the MV True Confidence and MV Lila Norfolk.

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