Philippines and Vietnam on Course to Sign Pact on South China Sea

China's increasing assertiveness looms large over the politics of the South China Sea (PCG file image)
China's increasing assertiveness looms large over the politics of the South China Sea (PCG file image)

Published Jan 23, 2024 11:09 PM by Brian Gicheru Kinyua


With Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr expected to visit Vietnam next week, reports have emerged that the two countries are likely to sign a maritime cooperation pact on South China Sea. This is part of the Philippines’ approach to seek greater regional cooperation on South China Sea disputes.

Last year, President Marcos revealed that his government had approached its Southeast Asian neighbors to discuss a separate code of conduct on South China Sea. An earlier proposed agreement being negotiated with China under the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) bloc has seen limited progress.

So far, Manila has reached out to Vietnam and Malaysia to back its proposal for the regional agreement on South China Sea.

Philippines Global Inquirer first reported on the scheduled MoU next week, noting that it will be signed between the coast guards of Philippines and Vietnam. Such an agreement will allow both countries to better manage conflicts in the contested waters, and conduct activities in accordance with principles of international law, the national laws of each party, and international conventions to which both Vietnam and Philippines are parties, according to the final draft of the MoU seen by the Inquirer.

In addition, the MoU is intended to foster “mutual trust and confidence of cooperation towards promotion, preservation and protection of mutual interests of the two countries in the Southeast Asia region.

In the past year, China has become increasingly assertive in the South China Sea, resulting in several run-ins with Philippine Coast Guard vessels on resupply missions in the disputed Second Thomas Shoal. There have been attempts to de-escalate the tension between China and Philippines, culminating in a bilateral consultation meeting last week between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs for both countries.

Although the two parties agreed to pursue diplomacy and improve maritime communication in resolving their disputes in the region, China appears not to keep its side of the bargain. Virtually days after agreeing to the new commitment, reports emerged of an incident over the weekend in which Chinese coast guard officers harassed Filipino fishermen collecting shells in Scarborough Shoal.

Indeed, Marcos’ call for regional cooperation amongst like-minded Southeast Asia countries is timely, given the challenges ASEAN has faced in trying to negotiate for a solution to South China Sea disputes since 2002.

Marcos initially signaled for an intention to establish maritime cooperation with Vietnam in August last year, at a meeting with departing Vietnamese Ambassador to Philippines Hoang Huy Chung.