Vietnam, Philippines sign deals on security in disputed South China Sea

Agreements to boost cooperation between coastguards, maritime security and trade likely to anger China.

Vietnam and the Philippines have agreed to cooperate on maritime security in the South China Sea, a conduit for $3 trillion of annual shipborne trade that China claims almost in its entirety.

The deals, signed during a state visit to Hanoi by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr on Tuesday, will see the two countries’ coastguards working together to prevent and manage incidents in the disputed waters.

The South China Sea is at the centre of territorial tussles between China, the Philippines and other countries. China claims almost the entire sea as its sovereign territory, while the Philippines, Vietnam and others claim various islands, islets, reefs and shoals.

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Tensions between the Philippines, a United States ally, and China over the waters recently reached boiling point. At the end of last year, the Philippines accused China of “swarming” the Whitsun Reef off its coast. China, for its part, accused the Philippines of provocations in the Second Thomas Shoal waterway.

Earlier this month, China held military drills in the South China Sea as the US and the Philippines conducted their own joint exercises in the same waters.

The high-seas faceoffs are fueling fears of a wider conflict.

Strategic partners

Vietnam and the Philippines have signed two agreements on “incident prevention in the South China Sea” and “maritime cooperation” among coastguards, said a Vietnamese official.

The deals could irritate Beijing, particularly if they pave the way to compromises between the signatories on their own competing claims.

Marcos said Vietnam was “the sole strategic partner of the Philippines” in Southeast Asia, stressing that maritime cooperation was the foundation of that relation.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh said Marcos’s visit helped boost bilateral relations. “The world and regional situation is evolving in a rapid and complicated manner and therefore we need to unite and cooperate more closely,” he said.

Trade ties

The agreements on maritime cooperation were accompanied by efforts to bolster trade ties.

The two countries signed a five-year trade commitment on food security, with Vietnam agreeing to supply up to 2 million tonnes of white rice to the Philippines “amidst the impact of climate change, pandemics, and other external events”.

Before meeting Vietnamese political leaders, Marcos met Pham Nhat Vuong, the head of Vingroup, Vietnam’s largest conglomerate, on Monday.

The company announced on Tuesday that its electric car unit, VinFast, will open a business network in the Philippines.

According to Vingroup’s statement, Marcos said the Philippines could help in the production of batteries for electric vehicles, thanks to its reserves of cobalt, copper and nickel.

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