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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Beyond rice trading

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The Philippines and Vietnam are both enmeshed in a maritime dispute with China following China’s sweeping claims of the South China Sea

When President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. makes a state visit to Vietnam on Monday, Southeast Asian neighbors, and even China, are likely to listen to him and watch him and his hosts’ shuffle.

The two-day visit, ending Tuesday, with key Cabinet officials, comes at a time when ripples of tension are seen in the South China Sea, particularly the West Philippine Sea, well within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

The 65-year-old President Marcos, until recently the country’s agriculture chief and familiar with the rice situation in this basically agricultural economy, is expected to discuss maritime issues with his hosts.

He will meet President Vo Van Thuong, 53, the youngest person to serve in this position since Vietnam’s reunification and the second highest official after Nguyen Phu Trong, the general secretary of the Communist Party; Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, 65, a public security general and third highest ranking after General Secretary of the Communist Party and the President of Vietnam; and Chairman of the National Assembly Vuong Dinh Hue. 66, Secretary of the Hanoi Party Committee.

Maritime issues cover territorial disputes in the South China Sea which involve conflicting island and maritime claims by several sovereign states: China, which has upgraded unilaterally its mythical “nine-dash line” to “ten-dash line” which encompasses the island of Taiwan – rejected by the United Nations Law of the Sea tribunal – Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

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Maritime security concerns in the South China Sea have been increasing for several reasons: higher volumes of shipping traffic, protection of exclusive economic zone resources, piracy, terrorist threats, greater international scrutiny of ports and shipping, and the modernization of regional naval and coast guard forces.

Among the most prominent non-traditional maritime security threats at present are illegal, unregulated and under-reported fishing, the smuggling of goods and people, piracy, and maritime terrorism, a serious security concern in waters around the world.

The Philippines and Vietnam are both enmeshed in a maritime dispute with China following China’s sweeping claims of the South China Sea, with Vietnam previously backing the Philippines in its victory in The Hague ruling against China’s claim of a nine-dash line.

We are certain, the meeting will go beyond maritime issues after President Marcos was invited by then president Nguyen Xuan Phuc, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders Meeting in November.

Vietnam is one of the world’s largest rice exporters and the Philippines is one of its biggest buyers.

During President Marcos’ state visit, the DFA said the Philippines hopes to strengthen with Vietnam its maritime cooperation, trade and investment promotion, people-to-people exchanges and cooperation in Asean and other multilateral fora.

Many will be keenly watching how the meetings develop.

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