THE state visit to Manila by Vietnam’s president was meant mainly to forge a strategic partnership with a former rival—and driven largely by China’s increasing dominance in the region.
Diplomatic relations between Vietnam and the Philippines date back only 35 years, but President Truong Tan Sang describes these ties now as “excellent.”
Before relations were established, Vietnam and the Philippines were Cold War rivals. The Philippines, of course, sided with the United States, which waged war against the Soviet-backed North Vietnamese government to contain the spread of communism in Asia.
President Sang, through an interpreter, told The Manila Times that his message to Filipinos was:
“Vietnam is a reliable friend and a responsible member of the international community.” The president gave a 20-minute interview to select journalists that included one from The Times.
Referring to the excellent bilateral relations, Sang said, “This is manifested in the adoption of the Asean Charter to build an Asean community by 2015.”
Asean is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional bloc of 10 countries that includes Vietnam and the Philippines.
When asked how China defines the relationship between the Vietnam and the Philippines, Sang said that the three countries were “equal members” of the international community.
“Each country has the right to behave within international law,” he added, saying later that Vietnam, the Philippines and China also have the right to protect their respective interests.
The three countries — along with Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Taiwan — claim the Spratlys either in part or as a whole. Tensions rose recently as China has become more assertive in claiming the entire area, which is believed to be rich in oil and minerals.
The Spratlys are a group of some 750 islands, islets, cays, reefs and atolls, and the Philippine claim covers seven islands — collectively called the Kalayaan Island Group — that are located well within the country’s exclusive economic zone.
Both Vietnam and the Philippines had filed a protest against China with the United Nations regarding the disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Referring to the disputed territories, President Sang said that violating the right of a country to protect its interests would be “interfering with the internal matters” of that nation.
Earlier this week, Vietnam and the Philippines renewed their commitment to maintaining peace in the Spratlys, and both Sang and President Benigno Aquino 3rd again called for a multilateral approach in resolving the disputed territories that was also based on international law.
China objects to such calls, preferring instead a bilateral approach with each of the claimant countries. It has also warned against internationalizing the issue.
Referring to the Philippines, Sang said, “If a strategic partnership is formed, the level of trust [between Filipinos and Vietnamese] will increase significantly.”
According to a joint communiqué released also on Wednesday, Vietnam and the Philippines “reaffirmed their commitment to advancing relations in a comprehensive manner, while endeavoring to consult further on the issue of strategic cooperation, for the mutual benefit of their peoples, and for the peace, stability and development of the region.”
In his arrival message, Sang said, “I believe that this visit of mine to the Philippines will serve as a new and important mark in the elevation of the Vietnam-Philippines cooperation to a higher and more comprehensive plane with the view that both countries work toward a strategic partnership, in the interest of sustainable development and prosperity of our respective countries as well as for the sake of peace, stability, cooperation and prosperity in the region.”
To date, the Philippines’ strategic partners are the US and China.
Vietnam, for its part, has a long history with China, which shares a border with it in the North. Chinese dynasties ruled Vietnam for 1,000 years until 939 AD.
President Sang also wants to expand economic ties with the Philippines, and he urged more Filipinos to invest in Vietnam. He said that Vietnam needed more infrastructure, processing plants for forestry products, manufacturing factories, and development in tourism.
“There are so many areas where Philippine investors can put their money in,” he added.
To date, Philippine investments in Vietnam have a combined capitalization of about $300 million, Sang said. Some of Filipino firms in Vietnam include the pharmaceutical firm Unilab and the conglomerate San Miguel Corp.
Vietnam, however, has no investments in the Philippines.
President Sang had said that that 70 percent of Vietnam’s gross domestic product (GDP) was credited to foreign direct investments (FDIs). GDP, a key economic indicator, is the total cost of all goods and services produced in a country in a year.
Vietnam’s ambassador to Manila, Nguyen Vu Tu, told The Times later that the figure cited by
President Sang also included domestic investments.
Bilateral trade between the Philippines and Vietnam stands at more than $2 billion. And Ambassador
Nguyen said that the balance of trade favored Vietnam, the world’s second-largest exporter of rice.
The Philippines, the world’s biggest importer of rice, sells a lot of chewing gum to Vietnam, the envoy said without giving figures.
President Sang said that Vietnam hoped to increase bilateral trade with the Philippines to $3 billion by 2015. But so far, he added, “We are pleased with the growth of bilateral ties.”
He said that Vietnam had been affected by the global economic slowdown, adding that a 6-percent growth was expected this year. Vietnam’s economy has been one of the most robust in the world, expanding 7 percent to 7.5 percent annually for 25 years.
Inflation, meanwhile, stood at 14 percent. Sang admitted that it was still high, but he expected that to fall. He said that unemployment was manageable, citing the success of generating 1.5 million new jobs recently.
According to Sang, his job in Manila has been successful. He and President Aquino witnessed the signing of four agreements. These are the Vietnam Action Plan for 2011 to 2016, which encompasses political, defense and security, economic and other issues; the Memorandum of Understanding for the Enhancement of Mutual Cooperation and Information Sharing between the Philippine Navy and the Vietnamese Navy; the Memorandum of Agreement on the Establishment of a Hotline Communication between the Philippine Coast Guard and the Vietnam Marine Police; and the Philippines-Vietnam Tourism Cooperation Plan for 2012 to 2015.
President Sang’s visit to the Philippines was his second. The first time was 15 years ago when he was mayor of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), which has a sisterhood agreement with Manila.
- President Sang says Philippine-Vietnam security, bilateral cooperation must be strengthened (US News Las Vegas) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)
- Aquino, Sang vow peaceful solution to Spratlys row (Gulf Today) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)
- Philippines to sign maritime accord with Vietnam (Inquirer) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)
- Vietnam president to visit Phl (Phil Star) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)
- PHL, Vietnam join forces over Spratlys issue (thepoc) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)