PH, Vietnam seek closer ties amid sea dispute

Posted at 07/03/2014 1:01 PM

MANILA – The Philippines and Vietnam have agreed that it is about time to adopt a Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea amid China's increasingly assertive behavior in the sea's contested portions, the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

In a statement, the DFA said Secretary Albert del Rosario and his Vietnamese counterpart, Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh, in a meeting in Hanoi on Wednesday, agreed to the adoption of the COC ''without undue delay."

''In this regard, the two Ministers reaffirmed the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Joint Statement on the Developments in the South China Sea issued on the 10th of May 2014 and the ASEAN Six Point Principles on the South China Sea,'' the DFA said.

The renewed call for the adoption of the COC comes amid China's recent activities in portions of the South China Sea which are also being claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam.

The Philippines earlier lodged a diplomatic protest against China's reclamation in Kennan Reef (Hughes Reef).

It also protested China's reclamation on Mabini (Johnson) Reef. It claimed that China appeared to be building in Mabini what could be the first airstrip in the contested waters.

The Philippines also said China was conducting reclamation activities in Cuarteron (Calderon) Reef, Gaven (Burgos) Reef, and Eldad (Malvar) Reef.

Vietnam, on the other hand, is protesting China's deployment of an oil rig in a portion of the sea which it claims but is controlled by Beijing.

In 2002, the ASEAN, in which both the Philippines and Vietnam are member-states, came up with the Declaration of the Code of Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea.

In the DOC, China and ASEAN member-states agreed to resolve their overlapping maritime disputes through peaceful means and in accordance with international law.

The Philippines believes the recent actions of China in the disputed waters are violations of the DOC. The Philippines and Vietnam said all claimants should follow the DOC and the international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Based on the DOC, China and ASEAN nations agreed to adopt a legally binding code of conduct which would set up rules on how claimant states should behave in the contested waters.

However, the establishment of a binding code of conduct that will replace the DOC has faced a host of challenges. One of these is China's influence over some ASEAN member-states, which has divided the regional bloc and caused delays in the adoption of a COC.

Closer ties

The DFA described the meeting between the two ministers as ''comprehensive, constructive and productive." The meeting covered bilateral cooperative projects, international and regional concerns, and people-to-people ties.

The two ministers also agreed to further promote cooperation in areas of fisheries, ocean and maritime, defense and security, and trade and investment.

With the meeting of the two ministers, the Philippines and Vietnam have agreed to ''advance partnership to a higher level''. This involves the establishment of a Joint Commission headed by the two ministers to formulated a road map in working towards a strategic partnership.

The Philippines and Vietnam's cooperation on various levels have seen an uptick recently.

Last month, Vietnamese and Philippine troops got together on the disputed island Southwest Cay to play soccer and volleyball. The gathering earned the ire of Beijing.