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PH, Vietnam eye war games, joint sea patrol

03:00 AM April 14, 2016

Defense officials from the Philippines and Vietnam will meet this week to explore possible joint exercises and Navy patrols, military sources said, shoring up a new alliance between states locked in maritime rows with China.

Ties have strengthened between the two Southeast Asian countries as China’s assertiveness intensifies with a rapid buildup of man-made islands in the Spratly archipelago, to which Vietnam and the Philippines lay claim.

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Both states are also on the receiving end of a renewed charm offensive by the United States, which is holding joint military exercises in the Philippines to be attended this week by US Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

Meeting this week

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The meeting between Vietnam’s vice defense minister, Nguyen Chi Vinh, and Honorio Azcueta, the Philippine undersecretary of defense, is scheduled for Thursday and comes as the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague nears a decision in an arbitration case lodged by the Philippines questioning China’s massive territorial claims in the South China Sea region.

The ruling in the case, which seeks to clarify parts of a United Nations maritime law, could dent China’s claim to 90 percent of the South China Sea, parts of which Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also claim.

Vietnam and the Philippines would discuss patrols and exercises, but a deal this week was unlikely, a senior military official told Reuters.

 Initial talks

“These are initial discussions,” he said. “These may take time but we would like to move to the next level.”

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. The information was confirmed by another defense department source in Manila.

Vietnam and the Philippines agreed on a strategic partnership in November to boost security relations as China expands its presence in the strategic waterway and deploys military equipment in the Spratly and Paracel islands.

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Their closer ties mark a bold step in a region where China’s economic influence has made some countries reluctant to take a joint stand against its maritime maneuvering.

The South China Sea will figure in the talks between the two countries, as will bilateral exchanges, information-sharing, military logistics and defense technology, the sources said.

Vinh will tour Philippine bases, including a major naval facility. Vietnam’s state media has not reported the visit.

Two Vietnamese frigates made port calls to Manila in 2014 and a Philippine warship may do the same in Vietnam this June.

Troops from both sides have played sports together twice since 2014 on disputed islands they occupy.

On Monday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Jose Rene Almendras was the first foreign dignitary to meet Vietnam’s new prime minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

Resolve issues

Meanwhile, the  Philippines and Singapore have agreed to exhaust all multilateral approaches, mainly through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to resolve the issues surrounding the South China Sea during a visit to Singapore this week by Almendras.

Almendras, who ended a two-day visit to the city state Wednesday, held talks with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his counterpart Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

“Both sides agreed that in discussing and resolving regional issues, including the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea, Aseans’ solidarity, unity and centrality is fundamental as it is vital,” said a statement issued Wednesday by the Department of Foreign Affairs. The wires with Estrella Torres

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TAGS: China, Features, Global Nation, Vietnam, West Philippine Sea
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