Philippines, Vietnam close to signing cooperation pact on South China Sea
The Philippines and Vietnam, both claimants of the disputed South China Sea, are close to forging a strategic partnership which is expected to be sealed by the two countries’ leaders in November, a solid alliance believed to be causing China to worry.
In a speech during the 70th anniversary of the Vietnam National Day on Wednesday night, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario cited the strategic partnership as a “mechanism to deliver a higher rate of return” in terms of the two countries’ cooperation.
“We are sure of the success of this partnership. As strategic partners, we aim to deliver results and cooperation at the highest possible level,” Del Rosario said at the Sofitel Hotel in Pasay City.
Del Rosario told reporters later in the night that the strategic partnership agreement would likely be signed on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation’s Leaders Meeting in Manila on November 18 and 19.
“We hope to sign it sometime this year. Possibly it will happen on the sidelines of the APEC,” Del Rosario said.
Vietnam Ambassador to the Philippines Truong Trieu Duong in an interview said the negotiations for the partnership were over and they have started finalizing the draft of the agreement.
“The draft is almost finished. It will be more comprehensive. (The partnership) will be more fruitful in every aspect of relations between the two countries… During the Apec meeting, there will be a news,” the Vietnamese ambassador said.
The Vietnamese ambassador said apart from political and economic cooperation, the two countries would scale up their military alliance.
Against the backdrop of the rising tension in the South China Sea with China’s island building activities, Truong said the alliance would help the two countries in resolving the disputes.
“We will deepen our cooperation in order to resolve the issue concerning the South China Sea in a most peaceful way and in accordance with international law,” Truong said.
Vietnam and the Philippines are both challenging China’s nine-dash line claim, which encompasses almost the entire South China Sea.
The Philippines initiated the arbitration proceedings against China before the international tribunal in the Hague, the Netherlands, in 2013 following China’s incursions into its exclusive economic zone.
Vietnam has bolstered the Philippines’ case when it submitted a position paper at the United Nations arbitral tribunal last year.
Maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal in a phone interview said the alliance between the two countries has been worrying China.
“Any indication that Southeast Asian countries are working toward unity worries China, especially if it will be a full-blown alliance,” Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines’ Institute for Maritime Affairs & Law of the Sea.
If the alliance will be sealed, Vietnam will be the third strategic partner of the Philippines, next to the United States and Japan.
“Vietnam is far stronger than the Philippines in terms of military strength. They have demonstrated they are much more willing to use it than us,” Batongbacal said.
He was referring to the incident last year when China’s state-owned China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) moved an exploratory oil rig, Haiyang Shiyou 981 (HD-981) into Vietnam’s waters, which sparked a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.
China eventually removed the oil rig from the waters being claimed by Vietnam.
Batongbacal noted that after the strategic partnership with the Philippines, the logical step for Vietnam to take is forming alliances with Japan and the US, which China would not want. Niña P. Calleja, Philippine Daily Inquirer
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.