Philippines-Vietnam joint commission to deepen defence ties

THE Philippines and Vietnam will form a joint commission to create a "strategic partnership", as the two former Cold War adversaries forge closer defence ties to confront China over its territorial claims in the region.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the Philippines said the commission, meant to "advance partnership to a higher level", would be jointly steered by its Foreign Secretary, Mr Albert del Rosario, and Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh.

No other details - when the commission will be formed, who else will take part or how far its jurisdiction will go - were given.

During the World Economic Forum in May last year, the Philippines and Vietnam agreed to draw up a "road map" to a "strategic defence alliance", as they expressed "deep concerns" over actions by China that "seriously threatened peace" in the region.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino said at the time that he expected such an alliance to lead to "increased collaboration between the respective defence agencies", including "exchanges in intelligence and naval technology".

China's claims to nearly the whole of the South China Sea have drawn the two nations closer against a common adversary.

Vietnam and China have been locked in a stand-off for months over a deepwater oil rig that Chinese state oil company CNOOC towed into waters that Hanoi claims as part of its territory.

The Philippines has protested China's recent land reclamation in the Spratly islands chain just west of its coastlines.

Defence analysts say the Philippines and Vietnam could form a military alliance with another of China's rivals, Japan, especially now that Tokyo is moving to give the Japanese military a more assertive role.

The Philippines is also reaching out to fellow Asean member Myanmar, a long-time China ally.

Philippine Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin announced on Thursday that he and Myanmar Defence Services commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing had agreed to work on a memorandum of understanding to deepen defence relations. So far, relations between the Philippines and Myanmar have been limited to trade.

rdancel@sph.com.sg