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PHL, Vietnam bolster ties amid sea row with China

The Philippines and Vietnam have agreed to strengthen ties as both nations confront China in an ongoing dispute over resource-rich territories in the South China Sea.

Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh held talks with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario in Manila last week to discuss the forging of a strategic partnership pact, which officials say will bolster Manila and Hanoi’s cooperation on all fronts.
“This was the first meeting of the joint commission on concluding the strategic partnership. Discussions are still ongoing, but both sides agreed to elevate the relations to a higher level,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said at a press briefing Tuesday.
A strategic partnership will upgrade Vietnam's relationship with the Philippines to a higher level, specially in the field of security where both countries can intensify military staff exchanges, port visits, information sharing and joint activities.
More importantly, such a heightened level of relationship sends a signal that smaller claimant countries can bond together to increase their clout and collective strength in confronting China's increasing assertion of its territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Jose said both nations are hoping to finalize the agreement soon.
The Philippines and Vietnam, which had the most number of confrontations with China in the South China Sea, have separately accused Beijing of unlawful and increasingly aggressive actions.
They protested as “illegal” China’s ongoing reclamation activities in at least six reefs where they have claims, the harassment of their fishermen by Chinese authorities and Beijing’s moves to disrupt energy exploration in areas within their exclusive economic zones.
Recently, Vietnam demonstrated its support to the Philippines when it backed Manila’s pending arbitration case against China before a Netherlands-based tribunal.
China dismissed the claims of rival nations to the resource-rich waters, insisting it has historical right to nearly all the South China Sea - an assertion that has alarmed foreign governments, particularly the United States and Japan.
Jose said the agreement is not aimed against China, but admitted that a closer engagement with Vietnam is “important” amid the territorial rifts that also involve other claimants, such as Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
“We share common concerns in this region, especially when it comes to the South China Sea issue,” he said.
The strategic partnership with Vietnam, Manila’s third after the US and Japan, will likewise expand cooperation on economic, trade and investments, and tourism, among others, Jose said. — RSJ, GMA News