Philippines, Vietnam to discuss patrols in South China Sea

Officials from Philippines and Vietnam meet this week to discuss possible joint exercises and navy patrols in South China Sea, shoring up new alliance between states locked in maritime rows with China

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

oil rig (R) which China calls Haiyang Shiyou 981, and Vietnam refers to as Hai Duong 981, is seen in the South China Sea, off the shore of Vietnam in this May 14, 2014 file photo.

Defence officials from the Philippines and Vietnam will meet this week to discuss possible joint exercises and navy patrols, military sources said.

Countries will shore up a new alliance between states locked in maritime rows with China.

Ties have strengthened between Philippines and Vietnam as China's assertiveness intensified as China buildup rapidly man-made islands in the Spratly archipelago where Vietnam and the Philippines lay claim.

Both states are also on the receiving end of a renewed charm offensive by the United States, which is holding joint military exercises in the Philippines which US Defense Secretary Ash Carter will attend this week.

Vietnam and the Philippines would discuss patrols and exercises, but a deal this week was unlikely, a senior military official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

"These are initial discussions," he said. "These may take time but we would like to move to the next level."

Naval patrols between the Philippines and United States were proposed by Manila in January. They could happen within a year, a foreign ministry official said.

"The two sides are still talking about this," the official told Reuters.

Vietnam and the Philippines agreed on a strategic partnership in November to boost security relations as China expands its presence in the strategic waterway and deploys military equipment in the Spratly and Paracel islands.

Their closer ties mark a bold step in the region where China's economic influence has made some countries reluctant to take a joint stand.

The meeting between Vietnam's vice defence minister, Nguyen Chi Vinh, and Honorio Azcueta, the Philippine undersecretary of defence, is scheduled for Thursday and comes as a court in The Hague nears a decision in an arbitration case lodged by Manila.

The ruling in the case, which seeks to clarify parts of a United Nations maritime law, could dent China's claim to 90 percent of the South China Sea, parts of which Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also claim.

The South China Sea will figure in the talks between the two countries, as will bilateral exchanges, information-sharing, military logistics and defence technology, the sources said.

Vinh would tour Philippine bases, including a major naval facility. Vietnam's state media has not reported the visit.

Two Vietnamese frigates made port calls to Manila in 2014 and a Philippine warship may do the same in Vietnam this June. Troops from both sides have played sports together twice since 2014 on disputed islands they occupy.

On Monday, Philippine Foreign Minister Jose Rene Almendras was the first foreign dignitary to meet Vietnam's new prime minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

TRTWorld, Reuters