Philippines, Vietnam close ranks amid sea row with China|
MANILA, Philippines - Top defense officials of the Philippines and Vietnam met on Monday to discuss security issues in connection with their territorial dispute with China over islets in the South China Sea while the top defense official of the United States started his tour to meet with his counterparts in Southeast Asia.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Vietnam’s Defense Minister, General Phung Quang Thanh, met in Camp Aguinaldo, general headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) based in Quezon City.
“Both officials assessed joint activities of the two defense and military establishments, and explored other cooperative initiatives to include humanitarian assistance and disaster relief cooperation given both countries’ experience on natural disasters,” the Department of National Defense (DND) said in a statement issued Monday.
It said one of the issues discussed during the meeting was how to cope with the “US’ policy of re-balancing in the Asia-Pacific” through mutual cooperation.
“Since the signing of the defense cooperation agreement between the Philippines and Vietnam in 2010, defense relations between the two countries have progressed through high-level visits, personnel exchanges and information-sharing. These exchanges fostered government-to-government links as well as people-to-people ties for the mutual benefit of the two countries,” the DND said.
Thanh arrived in the country on Sunday and is scheduled to fly back home on Wednesday.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is expected to arrive in the Philippines this week for a visit after attending a conference of defense ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) in Brunei.
China has been claiming nearly all of the strategically vital South China Sea (called West Philippine Sea by the Philippines), even waters close to the shores of its smaller neighbors.
Tensions between China and other claimants to the sea, particularly the Philippines and Vietnam, have escalated in recent years amid a series of Chinese political and military actions to assert its claims to the waters.