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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Enhanced ties with Vietnam

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Beijing (is) adamant in its stand that it owns nearly the whole of the South China Sea through the fictional ‘nine-dash line,’ now updated to a ‘ten-dash line’ to include the Taiwan Strait

Next week, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will embark on a state visit to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, another close neighbor on our western flank.

Among the items on the agenda, reports said, is the signing of a memorandum of agreement on maritime cooperation.

The draft MOU on maritime cooperation, reports indicate, will bind the two countries “to strengthen understanding, mutual trust and cooperation… towards the promotion, preservation, and protection of their mutual interests in the Southeast Asian region.”

In other words, this MOU could pave the way for a formal agreement to strengthen their common stand to maintain a peaceful and stable region amid China’s increasingly aggressive behavior in the South China Sea.

A formal agreement would allow the two countries to better manage conflicts in the contested waters and conduct activities “in accordance with principles of international law, the national laws of each party, and international conventions to which both Vietnam and Philippines are parties.”

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The prospect of much closer ties between the Philippines and Vietnam gained traction during the farewell call of outgoing Vietnamese Ambassador to the Philippines Hoang Huy Chung in August last year, when President Marcos underscored the need for the two countries to strengthen cooperation following escalating aggressiveness by Beijing in the South China Sea.

A maritime agreement with Hanoi would be a “very big step” for both countries and would “bring an element of stability to the problems we are now seeing in the South China Sea,” according to President Marcos.

He said the solid ties of both countries would make it easier for them to face “common challenges” in dealing with territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

If a maritime cooperation agreement is forged during the Marcos visit to Hanoi, the relations between our two countries could be elevated into a strategic partnership that may include enhanced cooperation as well in the fields as agriculture, culture, education, environment, information sharing, and people-to-people exchanges.

A bilateral maritime cooperation agreement with Vietnam could also lead to another favorable outcome, with other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has been discussing with Beijing a code of conduct for the peaceful settlement of territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

The limits of diplomacy

Can diplomacy resolve the simmering tension between the Philippines and China over our maritime claims in the West Philippine Sea?

We’re wary of Beijing’s insistence that the two sides should de-escalate the dispute through diplomatic means.

Dialogue and negotiations through the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea, established by the two sides in 2017, have produced nothing substantial except glittering generalities coursed through joint communiqués.

In the Eighth BCM held in Shanghai recently, the Philippines and China agreed to “avoid escalation of tensions” in the West Philippine Sea, particularly in the Philippine-occupied Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.

The Philippine delegation was led by Foreign Undersecretary Ma. Theresa Lazaro while the Chinese delegation was headed by Assistant Foreign Minister Nong Rong.

As usual, the communiqué said the two sides held “frank and productive discussions.”

They also “agreed to calmly deal with incidents, if any, through diplomacy” and that “continuous dialogue is important to keep peace and stability at sea.”

Both parties also agreed to “improve maritime communication mechanism in the South China Sea” and initiate talks on possible academic exchanges on marine scientific research between their scientists.

The BCM was convened following the agreement reached last November between President Marcos and President Xi Jinping in San Francisco “to ease and manage tensions in the South China Sea.” The agreement was followed by a phone conversation between Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in December.

It should be pointed out that this is the eighth BCM since 2017.

The talks should have led by this time to concrete steps to avoid any conflict in the South China Sea, but from where we sit, there’s been no such thing, with Beijing adamant in its stand that it owns nearly the whole of the South China Sea through the fictional “nine-dash line,” now updated to a “ten-dash line” to include the Taiwan Strait.


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