Philippines and Vietnam Plan Cooperation Agreement on S. China Sea

PCG run-in with China Coast Guard
A China Coast Guard vessel cuts across the bow of a Philippine Coast Guard cutter, August 6 (PCG)

Published Aug 13, 2023 10:08 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Philippines has signaled its intention to sign a maritime cooperation agreement with Vietnam in hope of stabilizing tensions in the South China Sea. While meeting the outgoing Vietnamese Ambassador to the Philippines Hoang Huy Chung last week, Philippines’ President Ferdinand Marcos underscored the need for the two countries to cooperate as Beijing’s aggression in the South China Sea escalates.

“Now that we are going to start discussions on the agreement that we have between the Philippines and Vietnam, I think it is a very important part of our relationship and it will bring an element of stability to the problems we are now seeing in the South China Sea,” said President Marcos, according to a statement by the Presidential Communications Office (PCO).

Marcos added that a maritime agreement between Philippines and Vietnam would make it easy for the two countries to face common challenges in the waterway. Such a bilateral agreement would be the basis of a united front with other ASEAN region countries, which is crucial in finding a solution to South China Sea dispute.

President Marcos sentiment comes days after an ugly military encounter between China and Philippines concerning the Second Thomas Shoal in Spratly islands. The incident showed China’s heightened aggression in its South China Sea claims.

Almost half of the ten countries forming ASEAN membership have competing claims in the South China Sea. According to some experts, a renewed maritime cooperation between the Philippines and Vietnam could introduce a new dynamic in the waterway’s dispute, forcing China to tread carefully.

“If Philippines and Vietnam are united, China will be a bit careful because it seems that will be the beginning of all ASEAN members that have claims in the South China Sea becoming united,” says Jay Batongbacal, Director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea at the University of the Philippines.

Maritime cooperation between Philippines and Vietnam in the disputed South China Sea have been in the works since 1990s. However, the effort has never materialized into a concrete agreement.

In recent times, this is changing as Vietnam backed Philippines in the South China Sea arbitration case lodged in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague.

In May, the two countries also agreed to work on a code of conduct with an aim to strengthen their coordination in dealing with maritime issues, specifically arising from the South China Sea.