Manila, Hanoi eye strategic defence alliance

THE Philippines and Vietnam have agreed to forge a "roadmap" to a strategic defence alliance, as they expressed "deep concerns" over recent actions by China that have "seriously threatened peace" in the region.

In a news conference yesterday with Philippine President Benigno Aquino, Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said China's deployment of an exploration rig in waters less than 300km from Vietnam's shores "has seriously threatened peace, maritime security and safety, and freedom of navigation" in the South China Sea.

He said this was just one of the "many activities" by China that "seriously infringe on the waters across our countries".

Mr Dung said he and Mr Aquino "share the deep concerns over the current extremely dangerous situation caused by China's many actions" and were "determined to oppose" Chinese incursions into their maritime territories.

He called on Asean and the international community to "continue strongly condemning" China.

The two leaders said their countries were working on a "roadmap towards a strategic partnership".

Said Mr Aquino: "In defence and security, we discussed how we can enhance confidence-building, our defence capabilities and interoperability in addressing security challenges."

He disclosed that their navies held "staff-to-staff talks" last month to discuss possible exchanges in intelligence and naval technology.

China's growing assertiveness in claiming 90 per cent of the South China Sea has recently drawn the Philippines and Vietnam, formerly on opposite sides during the Cold War, closer.

Filipino soldiers fought alongside the Americans during the Vietnam war, and communist insurgents still active in the Philippines continue to draw inspiration from the guerrilla war waged by Vietnamese war hero Ho Chi Minh.

Hanoi and Beijing are currently locked in a tense stand-off after the Chinese rig was moved into disputed waters early this month.

Anti-China rage erupted last week in Vietnam, with mobs attacking foreign-owned firms including Chinese-owned ones. Four Chinese nationals were killed and 140 injured in the riots.

The Philippines has itself been mired in several skirmishes with China over control of rocky outcrops in the resource-rich South China Sea.

Yesterday, Chinese President Xi Jinping issued a veiled warning to China's neighbours against strengthening military alliances.

But he also told an Asian defence forum in Shanghai that China was not a threat to regional security. "China stays committed to seeking peaceful settlement of disputes with other countries over territorial sovereignty, and maritime rights and interests," he said.

rdancel@sph.com.sg