Free and Open Indo-Pacific/FOIPSoutheast Asia

Philippines, Vietnam expanding cooperation in South China Sea

The Associated Press

The Philippines and Vietnam signed agreements in late January 2024 to prevent incidents in the South China Sea and broaden cooperation between their coast guards in a growing alliance that will likely be frowned upon by the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Beijing claims almost all of the strategic waterway in defiance of a 2016 international tribunal ruling that the claim has no legal basis.

The agreements, along with discussions on enhancing information-sharing and training exchanges between the Philippine and Vietnamese militaries, were forged during Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s visit to Hanoi.

The Philippines and Vietnam each has had tense confrontations with the PRC in the sea, a key route for global trade. Faceoffs between Chinese and Philippine ships intensified in 2023.

In Hanoi, Marcos raised concerns over the long-seething disputes and cited increasingly aggressive actions by the Chinese coast guard.

“There continue to be … unilateral and illegal actions that violate our sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction and exacerbate tensions in the South China Sea,” he told Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh.

Marcos cited a water cannon assault by the Chinese coast guard that damaged a Philippine vessel in December near Second Thomas Shoal and a similar incident at Scarborough Shoal, also within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

The Chinese coast guard in December 2023 fired water cannons at Philippine boats near Scarborough Shoal, which is within Manila’s exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.

“We are firm in defending our sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction against any provocations,” Marcos said. “But at the same time, we are also seeking to address these issues with China through peaceful dialogue and consultations as two equal sovereign states.”

Philippine and Vietnamese officials reached agreements on preventing and managing incidents in the South China Sea and intensifying coordination on maritime issues to promote trust and confidence

The accord on maritime cooperation “aims to establish a comprehensive partnership between our coast guards on capacity building, training, and personnel and ship exchanges to enhance interoperability operations between our two countries,” Marcos said.

He said Manila is interested in a joint submission with Hanoi to a United Nations commission that deals with the limits of continental shelves of coastal states.

The countries also signed a deal for Vietnam to supply the Philippines with 1.5 million to 2 million metric tons of rice each year. Vietnam accounts for 85% of the Philippines’ rice imports and the nations agreed to create a framework for ensuring stable supplies.

Marcos also met with Pham Nhat Vuong, chairman of the Vietnamese conglomerate Vingroup, which runs the electric vehicle (EV) company VinFast.

VinFast announced after the meeting that it will open an EV business network in the Philippines in 2024 as part of its goal to sell EVs in 50 markets worldwide. It has also said it will build factories in India and Indonesia.

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