Vietnam to Philippines: United, we will win

Paterno Esmaquel II
China's acts against Vietnam also threaten the Philippines, says the Vietnamese ambassador in an interview with Rappler

'ON SAME SIDE.' A Vietnamese child peers from Vietnam and Philippines flags while waiting for the arrival of Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung at Villamor Airbase in Pasay, south of Manila, Philippines on May 21, 2014. File photo by Dennis Sabangan/EPA

MANILA, Philippines – More than a century after breaking free from Spain, the Philippines finds an ally in its neighbor, Vietnam, in facing another powerful country that threatens its territory: China, which claims the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

“We’ve got to be united, and stand united. We will win,” Vietnamese Ambassador to the Philippines Truong Trieu Duong said weeks before the Philippines on Thursday, June 12, marked its 116th Independence Day.

On May 29, Duong sat down with Rappler for an interview about Vietnam’s thoughts on China as well as the United States, their country’s next possible moves, and its views on the Philippines in the South China Sea dispute. Much of the conversation remained off the record, but could still give readers a peek into their country that Duong described as “brave and patriotic.”

On the Philippines, Duong said, “We are on the same side.” (Watch more in the video below)

The 58-year-old ambassador referred to the stance by both the Philippines and Vietnam against China’s expansive claims over the South China Sea. (READ: Filipinos slam China for ‘Fault in Your Maps’)

Duong said China’s recent acts against Vietnam in the South China Sea, which the Vietnamese call the East Sea, also threaten the Philippines. 

Now more than words

It is, after all, the first time that Beijing did these things.

While the sea dispute has been ongoing for decades, Duong said this period is still different.

“Well, you can see that it used to be more words than actions,” Duong said.

True, he said, China had sent an oil rig into the disputed waters even before one of the lowest points in Vietnam-China relations that erupted in May, when China allegedly attacked Vietnamese vessels and injured 6.

EVIDENCE VS CHINA. A handout photo released by Vietnam's coast guard on May 7, 2014 shows a Chinese vessel (right) using water cannons on a Vietnamese vessel (left), near the Paracel Islands on May 5, 2014. File photo by Vietnam Coast Guard/EPA

Previous instances when China sent an oil rig into disputed waters, however, “would be within a very short period of time, and the oil rig was kind of smaller, much smaller.”

He noted that this time, a huge number of ships even escorted the oil rig. China also knew “that this kind of activity would be met with protests, strong protests, from Vietnam as well as other countries, even the US.”

“It has been very, very well prepared for that. Otherwise it didn’t have to send so many ships escorting the oil rig,” he said.

China’s ‘9-dash line dream’

Duong said it is also about China’s “dream.”

This dream, he said, has to do with China’s 9-dash line, a demarcation mark that China uses to claim virtually the entire South China Sea.

Duong criticized the 9-dash line as a “newly born idea” that “has been rejected by almost all countries, all claimants.” (READ: Top Philippine judge uses Chinese maps vs China)

He said: “This act, I think, has been carefully considered, carefully calculated, and is a very, very serious act for China to realize its dream of a 9-dash line…. It’s different from other acts before… just claiming, you know, some islands, things like that. But here, it is claiming the whole South China Sea.” (Watch more in the video below)

“In the end, this is a very, very dangerous act, because maybe after this, China may do the same to other countries, including the Philippines,” Duong added.

Duong said Vietnam “is considering all peaceful means and measures to settle maritime disputes with China, including the possible employment of the legal track.” (READ: Vietnam mulls ‘legal actions’ against China)

In an interview with reporters on June 5, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said Vietnam is “considering” a possible arbitration case like the one filed by the Philippines, and “they may try to consult with us.” – Rappler.com

Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.