Philippines, Vietnam agree on six-year action plan to deepen security ties

Vietnam's new Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (right) shakes hands with Philippines' Foreign Minister Jose Rene Almendras in Hanoi, on April 11, 2016.
Vietnam's new Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (right) shakes hands with Philippines' Foreign Minister Jose Rene Almendras in Hanoi, on April 11, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

MANILA - The Philippines and Vietnam have agreed to draft a 2017-2022 "action plan" to pursue a "strategic partnership" which they inked last year (2015) to deepen security ties in the face of China's growing assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea.

"The friendship between the Philippines and Vietnam has no way to go but up," said Philippine Foreign Minister Jose Rene Almendras in Hanoi.

He said the "action plan" will cover defence and security, as well as terrorism and transnational crimes.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino said in May last year that the "strategic partnership" between the Philippines and Vietnam was expected to lead to "increased collaboration between our respective defence agencies".

He disclosed then that the Philippine and Vietnamese navies had already held "staff-to-staff" talks to discuss exchanges in intelligence and naval technology.

The Philippines and Vietnam - on opposing sides during the Cold War - both have competing claims with China over the South China Sea, which is believed to sit on top of vast oil and gas reserves.

China claims almost the entire sea, even waters close to its neighbours' coasts, based on ancient maps.

Aside from the Philippines and Vietnam, other claimants to the sea include Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

In exchanges with his Vietnamese counterpart Pham Binh Minh, Mr Almendras said: "Emphasis was given on the vital role Asean centrality and solidarity play, including the non-claimant states, in coming up with a common position regarding the issue of the (South China Sea)".

He said Manila and Hanoi agreed to press for a "code of conduct" to avoid further raising tensions in the region.

Mr Almendras was in Hanoi on Monday (April 11) and Tuesday (April 12) for his first official trip since being named foreign minister in March this year.

rdancel@sph.com.sg