MANILA, Philippines – In a move seen to consolidate forces on the South China Sea, the Philippines and Vietnam on Tuesday, November 17, signed an agreement establishing a strategic defense and maritime partnership between the two countries.
This is the 3rd strategic partnership entered by the country, next to Australia and Japan.
Philippine leader Benigno Aquino III and Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang expressed concern over tensions in the strategic sea – which the Philippines call the West Philippine Sea; and Hanoi, the East Sea – home to some of the world's most important shipping lanes.
"Mr President (Aquino) and I shared our concerns over the recent developments in the East Sea, or the South China Sea, affecting trust, peace, security and stability in the region," Sang said.
He added that the pact marked a "new era for cooperation" between the two countries.
In a statement, Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr said Vietnam and the Philippines will have a "strategic partnership on political, economic, agricultural, defense, maritime, security, judicial and law enforcement cooperation."
The details of the agreement, however, were not given.
In the bilateral meeting, Aquino and Sang discussed the recent decision of the arbitration tribunal on its jurisdiction to hear Manila's case against Beijing over the sea disputes.
While several other countries are also claiming parts of the sea, the Philippines and Vietnam have been the most vocal in contesting China's expansion in the disputed waters.
"As I impressed upon the President: The decision represents a significant step forward in our quest for a peaceful, impartial resolution as regards the disputes, as well as the clarification of our rights under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The Philippines indeed looks forward to presenting the merits of our claims in the very near future," Aquino said in a statement.
Sang, for his part, had nothing but concurrence for Aquino, insisting the need to adhere to international law to solve disputes.
"We also reaffirmed the importance of ensuring the stability, maritime security, safety and freedom of navigation and of flight in the South China Sea, as well as settling maritime disputes on the basis of international law including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea," Sang said.
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The diplomatic ties of the two countries go a long way back, as the Philippines was among the first countries to help its neighbor during the Vietnam war in the 1950s.
Both nations vowed to deepen their cooperation and talks as they celebrate the 40th anniversary of their diplomatic relations in 2016.
Both countries also agreed to help each other combat human and drug trafficking.
Aquino also took the opportunity to get Vietnam's support on the prospective inclusion of the Philippines in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an economic agreement between Pacific Rim countries.
Earlier this month, China and Vietnam sought to cool tensions, pledging to solve their disputes after Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Hanoi, the first time in 10 years a Chinese premier had made a trip to its southern neighbour.
With the signing of the agreement, Vietnam becomes the Philippines' second strategic partner after Japan, which is sparring separately with China over a chain of islands and rocks over the Spratlys.
The agreement with Vietnam was signed as the United States announced it was ramping up maritime support to its Southeast Asian allies. – with a report from Agence France-Press/Rappler.com
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email email@example.com