The Philippines and Vietnam have agreed to conduct joint naval drills and scientific studies amid concerns over China’s intensified reclamations in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).
The planned activities are part of the soon-to-be signed “Joint Statement on the Establishment of a Strategic Partnership between the Republic of the Philippines and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” a copy of which was obtained by VERA Files.
In the strategic partnership agreement, which is considered a final draft until it is signed, the Philippines and Vietnam “reaffirm their commitment to resolve territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, as well as to the freedom of navigation in and over flight above the SCS (South China Sea) all in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).”
The section on Defense, Security, Judicial and Law Enforcement Cooperation states that the two countries agree to make full use of existing joint mechanisms and agreements to intensify cooperation between their armed services.
“To this end, joint confidence-and-capacity-building activities will be conducted leading to the eventual holding of actual joint exercises between the two navies,” paragraph 16 of the agreement said.
In the section on Maritime and Ocean Affairs Cooperation, the two countries agreed to “conduct joint scientific studies in the South China Sea.”
Once signed, Vietnam becomes the Philippines’ first strategic partner in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations among South China Sea claimants.
So far the Philippines has strategic partnership agreements with only two countries: the United States and Japan.
Vietnam, which initiated the agreement, had wanted it signed in Hanoi either before or after the April 26 and 27 summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Kuala Lumpur.
But since the schedule President Benigno Aquino 3rd could not accommodate a visit to Vietnam this month, the Department of Foreign Affairs is working on a May or June signing.
Vietnam proposed the strategic partnership when Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario paid a courtesy call on Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang in 2011.
Sang said at the time he hoped the bilateral relations “will grow from a multi-faceted relationship to a comprehensive one, with a view toward a strategic partnership.”
Del Rosario replied that the Philippines defines a strategic partnership as “one that is deep and nurtured over the years and can be counted upon.”
Aquino and Sang agreed to forge the strategic partnership during a bilateral meeting at the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing last November.
The Philippines and Vietnam are two of the six claimants in the South China Sea.
Vietnam, China and Taiwan claim almost the whole of the area while the Philippines claims a part of the Spratly islands. Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam also claim portions of the South China Sea, a navigation route for 40 percent of global trade.
In the Strategic Partnership Accord, the Philippines and Vietnam agreed not to occupy uninhabited islands in the disputed areas.
They reaffirmed their commitments to resolve differences in a “constructive manner without resorting to the threat or use of force.”
The two countries also restated their commitment “to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from actions of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays and other features.”
The agreement does not mention developments on islands and reefs the Philippines and Vietnam already inhabit.