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India backs Philippines in sea dispute with China

New Delhi has drawn a strong response from Beijing after reiterating its support for Manila in a territorial dispute

India has “firmly reiterated” its support for the Philippines and its “national sovereignty,” as Manila remains locked in a territorial dispute with Beijing in the South China Sea. Tensions have further increased amid a pivot by the Philippines back towards the US.  

Speaking on Tuesday alongside Philippines Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo after bilateral talks in Manila, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar stated “it is essential” that nations such as theirs “cooperate more closely to shape the emerging order.” “Every country has the right to uphold and enforce its national sovereignty,” the Indian diplomat added.  

Responding to Jaishankar’s remarks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian declared that “any third party is not in a position to interfere” in the maritime dispute between Beijing and Manila.  

Tensions have been running high in the South China Sea since Manila allowed the US greater access to four more military bases in 2023, as part of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed in 2014. Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea, brushing off rival claims from other countries, including the Philippines.  

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Last week, Manila summoned Beijing’s envoy after accusing Chinese vessels of damaging a Philippines supply ship and injuring a crew close to a disputed shoal. 

Jaishankar’s comments also come in the wake of New Delhi’s own border tensions with Beijing over India’s Arunachal Pradesh state. China also claims the area, which it calls ‘Zangnan’.

Earlier this month, Beijing criticized Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the region. During his visit, Modi inaugurated a tunnel that could hasten a military deployment to forward areas near the contested border with China. Reacting to Chinese comments, the Indian Foreign Ministry called Beijing’s claims over the region “absurd” and insisted that “repeating baseless arguments… does not lend such claims any validity.”  

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Meanwhile, the US has sought to weigh in, stating that it recognizes Arunachal Pradesh as part of India and “strongly opposes” China’s “unilateral attempts to advance territorial claims.” Beijing responded by accusing Washington of interference.

 “China strongly deplores and firmly opposes this,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin said at a press conference in Beijing last week. “The China-India boundary question is a matter between the two countries and has nothing to do with the US side.”

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