Vietnam and Philippines sign agreements on South China Sea security By Reuters

©Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. delivers a joint statement during Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s visit to Malacanang Palace, in Manila, Philippines, January 10, 2024. Ezra Acayan/Pool via REUTERS/file Photo

By Khanh Vu

HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam and the Philippines agreed on Tuesday to strengthen cooperation between their coast guards and prevent untoward incidents in the South China Sea, in an announcement during a state visit to Hanoi by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

The two Southeast Asian countries have competing claims to parts of the South China Sea, a conduit for $3 trillion in annual maritime trade that China claims almost in its entirety.

The two security memorandums of understanding covered “prevention of accidents in the South China Sea” and “maritime cooperation” between coast guards, according to a Vietnamese official who announced the agreements at a formal ceremony in the country’s presidential palace.

The Hanoi agreements, details of which were not disclosed, could risk angering Beijing, especially if they paved the way for future compromises over the disputed claims. China tends to view progress in resolving border disputes among other claimants with skepticism.

Both Hanoi and Manila have had clashes with the Chinese coast guard in the past, but altercations between Chinese vessels and the Philippines, a U.S. ally, have been frequent over the past year, adding tension to deteriorating relations.

Before meeting Vietnam President Vo Van Thuong, Marcos said Vietnam is the Philippines’ “only strategic partner” in Southeast Asia and stressed that maritime cooperation is the foundation of that relationship.

“The global and regional situation is evolving rapidly and complicatedly and therefore we must unite and cooperate more closely,” Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh said, stressing that Marcos’ visit helped strengthen bilateral relations.

Vietnam, one of the world’s largest rice exporters, has also signed agreements with the Philippines, a major wheat importer, regarding rice trade and agricultural cooperation.

In his two-day visit to Hanoi, Marcos will meet Vietnamese leaders, but not Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong, according to official plans, in what would be Trong’s third consecutive absence from meetings with visiting leaders this month .

Trong, 79, nevertheless attended a session of parliament in mid-January, partly allaying concerns about his health after he was not included in the official schedule of visits by leaders from Laos and Indonesia.

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

The company said on Tuesday that its electric car division VinFast (NASDAQ:) will open a commercial network in the Philippines.

Marcos said the Philippines could help in the production of electric vehicle batteries, thanks to its reserves of cobalt and nickel, according to the Vingroup statement.

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