Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh expressed support to the country’s move to bring its dispute with China before an international court as he disclosed that his country has also rejected Beijing’s proposal to jointly explore contested areas in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the Vietnamese official backed the arbitration case filed by the Philippines against China before the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (Itlos).
“They are very supportive of that. We are discussing the possibilities that we may be able to cooperate closely with them in terms of the settlement of the dispute,” del Rosario said.
Asked if it Hanoi is willing to file an interpleader, the Foreign Affairs chief said “that’s one option.”
However, the Foreign Affairs chief believed that such bilateral cooperation between two sovereign states has “no bearing” on what Manila is trying to achieve—which is to ask the five-member arbitral tribunal to invalidate China’s “excessive” nine-dash line claim.
Del Rosario and Pham met on Thursday to hold the 7th meeting of Philippine-Vietnam Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation, which tackled the growing maritime disputes in the region and “how to cooperate more closely in terms of the dispute settlement situation that we find ourselves in.”
“Vietnam has been very clear in terms of advocating the position as part of the peaceful resolution according to the international law, arbitration is a mechanism that should be respected as being a mechanism on the international law,” the secretary said.
With regards to maritime domain awareness, sharing of information and patrolling maritime borders, del Rosario said these would have to be discussed when Vietnam’s defense minister meets with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin later this year.
Analysts have predicted that the Philippines may lose Vietnam as one of its allies against China after the communist states agreed to set up mechanisms and a hotline number that will boost the fisheries cooperation between them.
Also, historically, Beijing tends to be friendlier to Vietnam since both countries share the tradition of socialist values.
Pham also said he will be backing the Philippines’ proposal to draft a binding Code of Conduct (COC) in the West Philippine Sea when the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) meets with China for consultations in September.
A prior meeting among the 10-member bloc in Thailand this August will give Manila and Hanoi a chance to convince other member-states, including two other sea claimants—Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam—not to settle for mere consultations in September.
“We wanted to take giant steps with China [in terms of the COC]. It is supposed to be just a consultation meeting, but we want to be able to bring it to a negotiation stage,” del Rosario said.
The COC however does not include a dispute settlement mechanism as it is merely a method to hold claimant-countries more liable based on the provisions of the 2002 Declaration on the Code of Conduct (DOC).
Meanwhile, Chinese Ambassador to Manila Ma Keqing said dialogues and consultations would have promoted the bilateral cooperation between the Philippines and China despite a growing maritime dispute in the West Philippine Sea.
In a speech delivered during the Filipino-Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, the envoy highlighted the importance for both countries to maintain their friendly relations. She said the “friendly exchanges” between the Philippines and China “dated back to thousands of years.”
“Although the current bilateral relations experienced some setback due to maritime disputes, [that]is only a small part in the overall bilateral relations,” Ma said.
“Nevertheless, we should carefully handle this. I would like to reiterate that the Chinese government attaches great importance to developing friendly relations with the Philippines and this obviously has not changed,” she added.
But for the envoy, if Manila only met China “halfway,” bilateral cooperation in shared fields of interests such as agriculture and other areas could have been handled through dialogues and consultations.
Such approaches, Ma said, would have ceased to “harm the exchanges and relations between the two people.”
“We are convinced that if we follow the [path]of peaceful development, we will definitely be able to seize the opportunity to reap mutual benefits and [positive]results,” the envoy said.
The two-month standoff at the Panatag Shoal last year triggered diplomatic spats between Manila and Beijing, with the Philippines eventually bringing the dispute before the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (Itlos) earlier this year.
And although China rejected the arbitration procedures, the Philippines maintained that the case can proceed even without Beijing’s participation. The five-member arbitral tribunal has recently convened, delegated The Hague as the seat of the arbitration and is set to come up with its decision regarding their jurisdiction on the case.