Hounded by the PRC, naval forces of Philippines, Vietnam work together

Hounded by the PRC, naval forces of Philippines, Vietnam work together

Bonded by their mutual maritime territorial disputes with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the increasing harassment of their fishermen by Chinese vessels, the navies of the Philippines and Vietnam have increased their engagements in recent months.

A Philippine Navy patrol ship, BRP Ramon Alcaraz, pictured, made a port visit to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, from September 7 to 11, 2019. Philippine Navy spokesman Lt. Ryan Luna heralded the visit as “an avenue for sustaining and enhancing the relationship between the two navies [that] will further intensify such understanding in the areas of security and defense, economic matters, regional and international cooperation.”

The ship’s officers met with Ha Phuoc Thang, head of office of the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee, and counterparts at the Vietnam Navy Technical College, according to the Philippine News Agency, Manila’s government newswire. The visit also featured confidence-building engagements between the ship’s crew and personnel of the Vietnam People’s Navy (VPN), including a shipboard tour, reception and exercises.

Prior to its Ho Chi Minh City port visit, BRP Ramon Alcaraz was joined by VPN’s HQ-18, an anti-submarine warfare corvette, and vessels from the navies of the other eight members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United States for a maritime exercise September 3-5, according to the People’s Army Newspaper (PANO), the official news service of the Vietnamese Armed Forces.

One month earlier, August 6-8, 2019, senior Vietnam defense officials visited Manila for the fourth Vietnam-Philippines Defense Policy Dialogue, co-chaired by Vietnamese Deputy Defense Minister Senior Lt. Gen. Nguyen Chi Vinh and his Philippine counterpart, Cardozo M. Luna. Luna expressed thanks that Vietnamese fishermen rescued a 22-man Philippine fishing boat that had been rammed and abandoned by a massive Chinese trawler on the night of June 9, 2019, PANO reported.

Philippine defense officials stressed the importance of the two countries’ bilateral defense cooperation, PANO added, acknowledging that they “share many common strategic interests and challenges.”

Both Hanoi and Manila have unresolved disputes with Beijing over territory and rights to resources in the South China Sea.

Beijing continues to disregard a 2016 international arbitration ruling granting Manila sole rights to natural resources within the 200 nautical miles of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). It has steadily fortified the Sibu Reef, prompting Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to announce in 2017 that he would deploy troops to defend a nearby island in the Spratly chain inhabited by the Philippines if it were threatened by Chinese forces.

A Chinese geological survey ship, Haiyang Dizhi 8, and its entourage of armed vessels intruded into Vietnam’s EEZ from early July through late September 2019. The area it surveyed is licensed by Hanoi for oil and gas exploration. Hanoi responded by deploying its own naval vessels.

At the August dialogue, according to PANO, officials from the Philippines and Vietnam agreed that maintaining the peace is their key goal, but they recognized “an increasing number of challenges that threaten regional peace and stability.”

Strengthening dialogue and cooperation are vital to addressing these challenges, the two parties emphasized in a joint statement, “on both bilateral and multilateral scales.” As for their own bilateral ties, they clarified that they will continue to implement signed agreements, promote high-level exchanges, cooperate at sea and “and treat humanely each country’s fishermen in line with international law and the bilateral friendship.”

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.