Mutual interests warm defense ties between Philippines, Vietnam

Mutual interests warm defense ties between Philippines, Vietnam

Tom Abke

Defense officials from the Philippines and Vietnam focused on boosting bilateral ties and protecting national resources and territorial waters when they met in Hanoi in August 2018.

At the meeting, dubbed the third Vietnam-Philippines Defense Policy Dialogue, officials announced that the militaries will participate in mutual visits by naval ships and will work to rescue fishermen in distress at sea. Philippine Undersecretary of National Defense Lt. Gen. Cardozo M. Luna and Vietnam Deputy Defense Minister Senior Lt. Gen. Nguyen Chi Vinh also agreed to promote defense industry collaboration and professional exchanges, according to the Vietnam News Agency.

The topics discussed reflect items included in the 2015 Strategic Partnership Agreement between the countries, including bilateral and regional cooperation “between and among maritime law enforcement and maritime safety,” and mutual support to produce an international code of conduct in the South China Sea.

“There are two broader benefits for Manila and Hanoi,” Mico Galang, defense research officer for the National Defense College of the Philippines, told FORUM. “First, in the face of Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea, both countries, in cooperation with the U.S. and other regional players, help promote peace and stability in the South China Sea. This can be done through sharing of intelligence, joint training activities, joint patrols, among others. Second, since both countries have overlapping claims in the Spratly Islands, defense cooperation can be used as a means to build confidence, and, more importantly, develop conflict/crisis management mechanisms.”

During the past year, fishermen have reported harassment by Chinese vessels in waters within their United Nations-designated exclusive economic zones. Dozens of Vietnamese vessels have been harassed or attacked, often by Chinese coast guard patrol boats, according to numerous reports in Vietnamese media. Similar reports have come from the Philippines. At least two fishermen from each country have died because of the encounters.

In late April 2018, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte assured Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc that he would seek to uphold a ruling by an international tribunal in favor of Manila and against the People’s Republic of China in the South China Sea. This let Nguyen know, Galang asserted, that Manila was not abandoning its fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for a closer alliance with the Beijing. (Pictured: Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, left, greets Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during the opening of the World Economic Forum in Cambodia in 2017.)

“An advantage of their defense relations,” he said, “is that there are existing frameworks such as the strategic partnership agreement and the memorandum of defense cooperation. Nonetheless, there are still areas to further boost the strategic partnership, particularly in the areas of maritime domain awareness, intelligence sharing and the promotion of interoperability.”

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.