Philippines and Vietnam Collaborate for Maritime Partnership in the South China Sea

The Philippines and Vietnam have agreed to enhance coastguard cooperation during Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr’s visit to Hanoi. The two Southeast Asian countries have been going through conflicts of interest over bodies of the South China Sea. Such waterway is crucial for fishing and global trade, which China claims almost entirely. The impending deal is anticipated to provoke China’s displeasure.

As stated by Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the memorandum on coastguard cooperation is “aimed at strengthening the understanding, a mutual trust, and confidence between the two parties.” The deals discuss “incident prevention in the South China Sea” and “maritime cooperation” among coast guards,” according to a Vietnamese official at a formal ceremony in the country’s presidential palace. Regarding this agreement, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to requests for comment made by Voice of America English News (VOA) Vietnamese. However, China’s state-run People’s Daily Online did mention that “if Vietnam and the Philippines cooperate in certain areas to the detriment of China’s interests in the South China Sea, it will only irritate the situation in the South China Sea and make the risk of conflict higher.”

The agreements between the Philippines and Vietnam come at the cost of China’s tension and harassment. Some experts question the effectiveness of the two countries fostering a united front against China. They fear it is simply adding fuel to China’s fire. Nevertheless, the agreements are completely consistent with international law, the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. Hence, Ha Hoang Hop, an associate senior fellow at the Singapore-based ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, pinpoints that China’s reactions to the agreement will have no solid effect.

China claims ninety percent of the South China Sea as its sovereign territory. However, it has faced opposition from Southeast Asian states and Taiwan. As reported by Al Jazeera, the sea is strategically vital with rich fishing stocks, likely oil and gas deposits, and $3 trillion of annual trade transits. At the end of last year, the Philippines accused China of “swarming the Whitsun Reef off its coast.” In addition, earlier this year, China held military drills in the South China Sea as the U.S. and the Philippines conducted their joint exercises in the same waters.

As strategic partners, the Philippines and Vietnam can react to the rapidly evolving world and regional situation through unification and cooperation. The foreign ministers of both countries highlighted that they “reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety, and freedom of navigation in, and overflight above, the South China Sea.”