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France has offered the Philippines two submarines in exchange for permission to explore the Southeast Asian nation’s “sovereign waters,” according to reports on Tuesday.

“France offered to build two diesel-electric-powered submarines for the Philippines based on the design and standard of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in exchange for allowing it to explore the Philippines’ vast sovereign waters,” Filipino news website Rappler reported.

The proposal came as the Philippines mulls continued modernization of its armed forces.

However, Philippines Defense Officer-in-Charge Jose Faustino Jr. said such an offer was cumbersome.

“The offer wasn’t as easy as it looked because the Philippines and France have no mutual defense agreement. It has to go through a constitutional process. We cannot just do that,” Faustino said, during a visit to Mati City in southern Davao Oriental province on Friday.

It is pertinent to mention the Philippines shares maritime borders with China in the South China Sea which has remained a hotbed of conflicts over the sovereignty of waters in the region.

China claims most of the sea as its own, but the US — which Beijing accuses of “provocations” — and surrounding countries, including the Philippines, disagree.

Washington, and her allies, regularly deploy their warships and air force in the region under the notion of “freedom of navigation.”

The Philippines won a case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016, invalidating China’s claims over the sea.

Besides France, the Southeast Asian nation has received offers from South Korea, and Japan, among others to build the two submarines as part of the modernization program of the country’s armed forces.

Manila adopted the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) Modernization Act in 1995, aiming to shore up defense against external threats, which was amended in 2012 to extend the program for 15 more years.

The two submarines will be bought under the third phase of the extended modernization program that ends in 2028. Manila has already made a down payment to Seoul to procure six offshore vessels.

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