Last update: 15:34 | 20/03/2019
Vietnam and the Philippines taken steps together in settling maritime issues in the East Sea (internationally known as the South China Sea), amid escalating tensions in the region which China claims the majority.
Vietnamese Defense Minister Ngo Xuan Lich and Filipino Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in Hanoi on March 10. Photo: Tienphong
Earlier this month, Filipino Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana visited Vietnam for a bilateral meeting with his Vietnamese counterpart Ngo Xuan Lich.
The Philstar quoted Delfin Lorenzana as saying that the two sides discussed how to navigate the issue in the face of the Chinese’s increased activities and both agreed that the COC should be pursued and concluded at the soonest time possible.
The two top defense officers also agreed that each country should individually deal with their peculiar circumstances in the disputed region.
“We did not agree on anything but to deal with our own peculiar circumstances vis-a-vis China,” Lorenzana added in a text message to defense reporters following his return to Manila on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Vietnamese media reported that both defense chiefs exchanged views on the current situation of each country as well as in the region and world. The two sides decided to boost cooperation in key fields to include defense industry, non-traditional security, air forces and military cadet exchanges, they added.
During an ASEAN summit in Singapore last year, China said it hopes to complete talks on the COC in the East Sea within three years.
The latest move has been related to Thitu Island in Vietnam’s Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelago or Pag-asa Island for the Philippines.
Thitu Island, the second biggest islands in Spratlys, belongs to Vietnam and now is administered by the Philippines. The island is low-lying with trees, shrubs and sand bars, part of Kalayaan in Filipino Palawan province.
Recently, China has deployed its naval militia aboard dozens of fishing boats around Thitu Island when the Philippine military started construction of a beaching ramp in the island town.
Firm statements from each side
Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh and Filipino Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. in Manila on March 5. Photo: MOFA
During a visit to the Philippines on March 5-7, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh stated that both the countries underlined the importance of maintaining peace, stability, safety and security of navigation in the East Sea, peaceful resolution of (the) dispute, and respecting international law towards early conclusion of an effective and substantive COC.
Minh also noted the enhanced cooperation between the Philippines and Vietnam in defense and security “with the regular and effective implementation of important mechanisms such as defense policy dialogue and the navy consultation.”
In turn, Filipino Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said that the two sides comprehensively map out specific commitments for which they will undertake jointly in the political, security, economic, and cultural spheres, as well as in other various areas.
Earlier in January, former Filipino Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said that the Philippine government should support Vietnam’s position on negotiations on a Code of Conduct in the East Sea, The Philstar reported.
Del Rosario earlier warned that Beijing might use the COC in legitimizing its artificial islands in the East Sea.
According to Reuters, Vietnam has been pushing for provisions on the agreement that would outlaw many of China’s actions in the disputed waterways. Hanoi also reportedly opposes Beijing's proposal to limit joint development deals to China and ASEAN member states by excluding foreign oil firms.
The Philstar cited Del Rosario as saying it would be a constructive move to consult with Vietnam to give the Philippines an opportunity to share and appreciate each other’s views which could lead to an agreed plan of action that is beneficial not only to both countries but to others as well.
He added that Vietnam has taken a strong stance against pro-China provisions in the proposed COC. The Philippines must support Vietnam on this to block the attempts of China to gain complete control of entire East Sea.
Filipino Rep. Gary Alejano echoed Del Rosario’s call for the Philippines to consult Vietnam in negotiating the pact with China in the contested waters.
The Philippine flag raised in Hanoi during the visit of Filipino Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on March 10-13. Photo: Tienphong
Notably, Alejano expressed admiration for Vietnam’s vocal condemnation of China's militarization of the East Sea while the Philippines refuses to bring up the arbitration ruling in its bilateral negotiations with Beijing.
The lawmaker stressed that the ASEAN should be united in negotiating with China on the COC that must embody respect for international law.