MANILA, Apr 6 (Mabuhay) — A bilateral meeting between Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and his counterpart Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar “later this month” is in the works, the Indian Embassy in Manila revealed Tuesday.

Indian Ambassador to the Philippines Shambhu Kumaran said Locsin is expected to visit India to follow up on the discussions he had when Jaishankar went to Manila in February, wherein security, defense, and regional and global issues were among the topics covered.

Kumaran said among the agenda of this visit is the creation of a “legal framework” for the further expansion of New Delhi and Manila’s partnership.

Locsin’s supposed India trip would come on the heels of his bilateral meetings with his counterparts this month, including Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa on April 9.

Kumaran admitted that India’s engagement with Manila is “not as well-developed and multifaceted” compared to its partnership with other countries in Southeast Asia.

But thanks to the growing trade relations, interactions between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, and the latter’s independent foreign policy, the envoy said the two nations have managed to bring a degree of energy into their partnership.

“With the recent developments in the Indo-Pacific, in particular, the complications around relationships with rising new powers and the smaller (Southeast Asian) nations there’s definitely been an interest in India and in India’s approach, and reciprocally for India, the Asean and Philippines have been countries of considerable interest,” he added.

Some areas of interest Kumaran said the two nations could further work on are vaccine production, business process outsourcing, and financial technology.

He said the two nations are also trying to develop cooperation on defense and security, particularly on counterterrorism.

“Space-based applications, new technologies that help both in terms of development and national security, these could all be potentially very, very important drivers for this relationship in the future,” he said.

In January this year, the Philippines also formally signed the PHP18.9 billion contract for the Indian-made BrahMos medium ramjet supersonic cruise missile system which is programmed for the Navy’s Shore-Based Anti-Ship Missile System.

While talks are “still at an early stage”, the envoy said he also sees potential opportunities in terms of naval platforms and systems.

“I don’t think anything is mature enough to be able to get to a contract, but surely the conversations are ongoing. We just had a joint defense committee meeting in India last month and I think the discussions that were very positive,” he said.

During the said meeting, Filipino authorities have outlined Manila’s needs under the Armed Forces of the Philippines modernization program, requirements Kumaran believes India has the capacity to meet.

“[W]e’re willing to do far deeper and more sustainable cooperation, which involves a lot of military-to-military engagements to support capability acquisition, not just purely in terms of buy and sell, but also in terms of working together military-to-military, trying to develop the capability in the true sense through training, extensive maintenance support, and clearly establishing ourselves as a serious player in the defense business,” he said.

In the same forum, the ambassador underscored the need for New Delhi and Manila to work together, citing the fact that both nations are committed to the rules-based order and both “have experienced, if you will, similar challenges to our sovereignty and territorial integrity– inland or in the maritime domain”.

“Clearly, we need to work together to try and bolster each other’s capabilities. We need to exchange more information with each other and work together wherever possible,” he said. (MNS)

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