Philippines and Vietnam to be 'strategic partners'

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said that as strategic partners, his country and Vietnam aim to deliver results.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said that as strategic partners, his country and Vietnam aim to deliver results.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Pact will boost defence and economic ties amid South China Sea row

MANILA • The Philippines and Vietnam will sign a "strategic partnership" agreement by the end of the year, officials have said, as common neighbour and rival China flexes its military muscle in disputed waters.

The agreement comes as the leaders of China and Vietnam agreed yesterday to "properly handle" their disputes, China's official Xinhua news agency reported, amid tension over a territorial spat in the South China Sea.

The Philippines and Vietnam said the partnership agreement would bolster defence, political and economic ties between the two South-east Asian nations most critical of China's claims over most of the South China Sea.

"As strategic partners, we aim to deliver results... a cooperation at the highest possible level," Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told reporters late on Wednesday.

"We will deepen our cooperation in order to solve all the issues concerning the South China Sea in a most peaceful way in accordance with international law," Vietnamese Ambassador to the Philippines Truong Trieu Duong told reporters.

The deal would make Vietnam the Philippines' second "strategic partner" after Japan, with which the Philippines is also bolstering military ties.

The deal would make Vietnam the Philippines' second "strategic partner" after Japan, with which the Philippines is also bolstering military ties.

Maiden naval drills with Japan were held in quick succession this year and negotiations are under way to transfer Japanese defence equipment, including anti-submarine reconnaissance aircraft and radar technology, to the Philippines.

The Philippines is also bound by a mutual defence treaty with its oldest and most important ally, the United States.

The planned Vietnam deal was announced hours before China paraded large numbers of soldiers, tanks and missiles on Tiananmen Square in Beijing to mark the 70th anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War II.

Mr Del Rosario said the Vietnam deal could be signed on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders' summit in Manila in November.

Negotiations for the strategic partnership agreement started after Vietnamese Prime Minister Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung's visit to Manila last year.

The Philippines, Vietnam and China have overlapping claims in the South China Sea - an important waterway for global trade which is also believed to hold vast oil and gas reserves. Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan also have conflicting claims over some or all of these waters.

China's increasingly assertive moves to press sovereignty claims in regional waters have rattled its neighbours and aroused concern in the US, though Beijing says it has no hostile intent.

China's deployment of an oil rig last year, in what Vietnam called its exclusive economic zone and on its continental shelf, about 120 nautical miles off its coast, led to the worst breakdown in relations since a brief border war in 1979.

Yesterday, Chinese President Xi Jinping told Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang: "We are in favour of properly handling disputes between both sides through dialogue, and expanding cooperation and common interests," Xinhua reported.

Both are socialist countries led by communist parties, and it "is a requirement for the two countries to enhance strategic coordination, exchanges and cooperation", Mr Xi added.

Mr Sang was in Beijing to attend a military parade marking 70 years since the end of World War II in Asia. "Vietnam hopes to strengthen political trust and personnel exchanges with China, properly handle differences and enhance win-win cooperation," Mr Sang said, according to Xinhua.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2015, with the headline 'Philippines and Vietnam to be 'strategic partners''. Print Edition | Subscribe