Philippines and Vietnam forge maritime partnership amid South China Sea tensions

This engagement comes ahead of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s anticipated visit to Vietnam in late January, indicating a desire for cooperation and coordination in managing maritime affairs in the region.

The meeting between the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and Vietnamese officials, including Standing Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Nguyen Minh Vu and Vietnamese Ambassador to Manila Dr Lai Thai Binh, signals a proactive effort by both countries to discuss maritime security operations in the West Philippine Sea.

This engagement comes ahead of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s anticipated visit to Vietnam in late January, indicating a desire for cooperation and coordination in managing maritime affairs in the region. The briefing provided by the PCG likely aimed to update Vietnamese officials on the current situation in the West Philippine Sea and the Philippines’ maritime security operations in that area.

The memorandum of understanding (MOU) on maritime cooperation between the coast guards of the Philippines and Vietnam underscores a commitment to enhancing understanding, trust, and cooperation between the two countries in managing maritime issues in the Southeast Asian region. The MOU, as described in the final draft seen by the Inquirer, aims to promote and safeguard mutual interests while adhering to international law, national legislation, and relevant international conventions.

By formalizing this agreement, both the Philippines and Vietnam can more effectively address conflicts and conduct activities in contested waters, with a shared commitment to upholding legal principles and norms. This agreement reflects a proactive approach to regional security challenges and demonstrates the willingness of both nations to work together towards peaceful resolutions and the protection of maritime interests.

The shared aspiration for a peaceful and stable region between the Philippines and Vietnam underscores their mutual commitment to fostering cooperation and dialogue in addressing challenges, particularly concerning the South China Sea. Both nations have a history of collaboration in navigating the complexities of maritime disputes, and there exists a promising opportunity to elevate this strategic relationship further.

Amid tensions with China, the Philippines has been actively expanding its network of alliances with like-minded countries, signalling a proactive stance in safeguarding its interests and promoting regional stability. While such efforts may draw criticism from Beijing, they reflect the Philippines’ dedication to upholding its sovereignty and pursuing partnerships that align with its strategic objectives.


The situation in the South China Sea continues to escalate as China asserts its claims more aggressively, despite the coronavirus pandemic. Reports of Chinese naval ships targeting Philippine vessels and the establishment of new research stations with military infrastructure on disputed reefs heighten tensions in the region. Vietnam also lodges formal complaints over incidents involving Chinese vessels in disputed waters.

China’s actions intensified following Philippine President Duterte’s support for the 2016 Hague ruling, which rejected China’s nine-dash line claim. Beijing deployed ships to Whitsun Reef within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, leading to accusations of military operations disguised as fishing activities. Additionally, the Philippines and the United States strengthened military ties, leading to objections from China and allegations of harassment against Philippine and Australian sailors.

Indonesia and Vietnam reached agreements on their respective exclusive economic zones, easing tensions over overlapping claims in the South China Sea. However, China’s release of an updated territorial map, including a newly drawn “ten-dash line” encompassing Taiwan and the Spratly Islands, further strains relations with ASEAN members and other regional stakeholders.

Amid these developments, China’s military spending increases, and President Xi Jinping begins an unprecedented third term, signalling a continuation of assertive policies in the region. The rejection of China’s new territorial map by multiple countries underscores the widespread opposition to Beijing’s expansive claims and its violations of international maritime law, particularly under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).


President Marcos’s emphasis on the need for cooperation between the Philippines and Vietnam in response to escalating aggression in the South China Sea underscores the shared concerns and strategic interests of both countries in the region. The proposal for a maritime agreement between Manila and Hanoi reflects a recognition of the importance of stability and cooperation in addressing the challenges posed by Beijing’s actions in disputed waters.

By formalizing a maritime agreement, both countries aim to bring a sense of stability to the South China Sea and enhance their capacity to manage territorial disputes effectively. President Marcos’s recognition of the solid ties between the Philippines and Vietnam suggests a mutual understanding of the need to address common challenges and promote regional security through diplomatic means.

Furthermore, the proposed bilateral agreement could serve as a foundation for broader collaboration within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), particularly in negotiations with Beijing over a code of conduct in the South China Sea. ASEAN’s efforts to establish a code of conduct are crucial in easing tensions and promoting peaceful resolution of disputes in the region.

The frustration expressed by President Marcos over the slow progress in talks between ASEAN and China highlights the urgency of addressing maritime disputes and upholding the 2016 arbitration ruling, which rejected China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea. Despite Beijing’s refusal to acknowledge the tribunal’s decision, continued diplomatic efforts by ASEAN member states, including the Philippines and Vietnam, remain essential in upholding international law and preserving regional stability in the South China Sea.


The remarks made by National Security Council (NSC) Assistant Secretary Jonathan Malaya underscore the Philippines’ expectation for China to fulfil its commitment to improving bilateral relations and reducing tensions in the West Philippine Sea. Malaya’s statement comes in response to recent videos depicting Chinese Coast Guard personnel harassing Filipino fishermen in Bajo de Masinloc, occurring shortly after a Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) discussion between Beijing and Manila.

Despite assurances from the Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian regarding improved maritime communication and friendly consultations to address maritime disputes, the incident involving the harassment of Filipino fishermen raises concerns and undermines efforts to promote peace and stability in the region.

Malaya’s call for China to honour its commitments and ensure peaceful conditions in the West Philippine Sea aligns with the Philippines’ desire for constructive dialogue and cooperative engagement with its neighbours. Highlighting the upcoming Chinese New Year, Malaya emphasizes the importance of translating diplomatic discussions into tangible actions on the ground to foster trust and goodwill between the two countries.

Moreover, Malaya emphasizes the mutual interest of both Manila and Beijing in maintaining positive diplomatic relations, underscoring the benefits of cooperation over strained relations for both nations. Looking ahead, he expresses hope that the discussions held during the BCM will lead to meaningful outcomes and tangible progress in addressing maritime disputes and promoting stability in the West Philippine Sea.