With eye on China, Philippines, Vietnam to sign strategic partnership on Apec sidelines

MANILA (AFP) - The Philippines and Vietnam will sign a strategic partnership on Tuesday (Nov 17), a Filipino official said, cementing an alliance forged in the face of twin territorial rows with China.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino and visiting Vietnamese counterpart Truong Tan Sang will witness the signing of the pact, foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose told AFP on Monday.

Sang will be in Manila along with other leaders from the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) group for a two-day summit meant to focus on trade starting Wednesday.

But Aquino is taking the opportunity to firm up important alliances as the Philippines looks for support in its dispute with China over competing claims to the South China Sea.

China claims nearly all of the sea, which is believed to sit atop vast oil and gas resources and is home to vital shipping routes, even waters approaching the coasts of its neighbours.

The sea's other claimants are the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

The Philippines and Vietnam have in recent years been the most vocal in criticising moves by China to assert greater control over these waters.

Their shared concerns over China have brought them closer in recent years, with the imminent strategic partnership the most significant development.

Jose confirmed to AFP Tuesday's scheduled signing via a short text message, without giving further details.

But the Philippines and Vietnam had previously said the agreement would bolster defence, political and economic ties, and was being brokered with China in mind.

"We will deepen our cooperation in order to solve all the issues concerning the South China Sea," Vietnamese ambassador to the Philippines Truong Trieu Duong told reporters in September when discussing the planned partnership.

On the sidelines of Apec, Aquino is also scheduled to hold official bilateral talks with US President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Obama's aides have said the South China Sea would be a "central issue" during his visit to the Philippines.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is also due to arrive in Manila on Tuesday for Apec. China has insisted the row should not be a focus during the summit.

Aquino has not been able to secure a meeting with Xi, according to Philippine officials.