The Philippines and Vietnam on Wednesday agreed to forge a roadmap toward a strategic defense partnership as both countries vowed to continue opposing China’s aggression in the region.
Once the roadmap is approved, Vietnam will become the country’s third strategic partner, next to the United States and Japan.
The policy announcement signals a more united front between the two countries in facing Chinese incursions in the Paracel Island in Vietnam and Ayungin Shoal and Mabini Reef in the Philippines, which are within their respective 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone as provided by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas.
“It is not an overstatement when I say that I look forward to increased collaboration between our respective defense agencies. Might I also add that both our nations are looking forward to jointly determining the prerequisites in forging a roadmap towards a strategic partnership,” President Benigno Aquino III said after his bilateral meeting with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.
“We face common challenges as maritime nations and as brothers in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). I believe continued cooperation between the Philippines and Vietnam will enable us to better protect our maritime resources,” he added.
Aquino also highlighted the need to enhance defense inter-operability in addressing security challenges.
The President said close cooperation between the Manila and Hanoi’s respective Coast Guards have allowed them to “protect our marine resources and suppress illegal activities in the adjacent sea area between our two countries.”
Also with the Philippine panel who attended the expanded bilateral meeting between Aquino and Nguyen was Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Henry Bensurto Jr., who heads the DFA-West Philippine Sea Center.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said China’s actions “seriously threatened peace, stability, maritime security and safety, and freedom of navigation.”
“With regard to the situation in the East Sea, the President (Aquino) and I shared the deep concerns over the current extremely dangerous situation cause by China’s many actions that violate the international law, the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and seriously infringe on the waters across our countries.”
“The two sides are determined to oppose China’s violations and called on countries and the international community to continue strongly condemning China and demanding China to immediately end its violations,” Nguyen added.
Vietnam had insisted on withdrawal of China oil rig and vessels in its territory, with Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh saying that Vietnam had held 20 direct meetings with China over the issue.
Minh said China had shown aggression by not withdrawing the oil rig despite protests. He added Vietnam had used all necessary measures to protect the country’s sovereignty and regional stability—and the traditional friendship built between peoples of both countries.
During their bilateral talks, Nguyen and Aquino also underscored the importance of hastening the discussions on the Code of Conduct, a binding agreement to government overlapping maritime claims among ASEAN member-states.
China is a signatory to the ASEAN Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, but the 12-year old document is not binding nor enforceable.
Despite agreeing on a roadmap for Strategic defense partnership, a Palace spokesman said that Vietnam and Philippines had no intention of ‘ganging up’ on China, according to Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda.
Lacierda urged China sit down and discuss with Asean members the Declaration of the Code of Conduct.
“We hope that China would sit down with ASEAN and discuss the Declaration of the Code of Conduct. We are hoping that China would… China has already stated its position that it is willing to work on the declaration but we have… We don’t have the latest updates on that. But again, ASEAN is prepared to speak to China, and we hope that China will sit down with ASEAN nations and move the discussion on the declaration further up,” he said.
He added that Nguyen’s visit should not be viewed as the Philippines and Vietnam joining forces against China.
“No, that’s not the proper context to it. The Prime Minister 0is also here for the World Economic Forum. We certainly have a commonality with respect to our dispute with China. But again, this is an issue that has been tackled with the ASEAN as a whole, where certain statements have been made before the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting.
Tensions between China, Vietnam and the Philippines had continued as all three countries assert their claims on the South China Sea.
Aside from Prime Minister Dung, Aquino is also receiving this week, outgoing Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono who is also attending the WEF.
Yudhoyono had warned against China’s gunboat diplomacy in the last ASEAN summit.
Lacierda said Aquino and Yudhoyono will also discuss defense issues.
Yudhoyono will be conferred with the Order of Sikatuna with rank of Raja during the State Dinner hosted in his honor.
On Wednesday, during the World Economic Forum on East Asia (WEF-EA) on May 22, Yudhoyono was also conferred with the Global Statesmanship Award, and will witness the official turnover to Indonesia of the hosting of the 24th WEF-EA in 2015.
This is Yudhoyono’s first bilateral visit to the Philippines since he became Indonesia’s President for two consecutive terms in 2004 and 2009.
Meanwhile, top business leaders said that that despite the ongoing dispute in the South China Sea, China remained as the largest trading partner of the 10-member Asean.
Asean had imported more from China that it exported to its member-states. “The economic relationship has continued to prosper despite potential hiccups in the political relationship, and one would expect it to remain the case simply because of the proximity of China and the vitality of the Chinese economy,” said Frederic Neumann, the co-head of Asian research at HSBC, speaking of ties between China and Southeast Asia. “Policymakers in Asia take a very pragmatic approach when it comes to economics and don’t always let politics interfere with economic decision-making.”
But while Asean is dependent on China’s 1.4 billion population for consumers of its exports, China also relies on Southeast Asia for investment. Foreign direct investment from China to Asean was $5.74 billion in 2013, compared with the $8.35 billion Asean economies invested in China. With PNA/VNS
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