Philippine President Benigno Aquino has announced that it was actually Vietnam who instigated the new ‘strategic partnership’ currently being negotiated between the two states to counter what Aquino described as China’s ‘massive reclamation activities’ in the South China Sea.
In an interview with South China Morning Post, the Philippine President commented on the new tactical collaboration with Vietnam, a country which has historically had hostile relations with China. Last year, a Vietnamese fishing vessel was sunk in a collision with a Chinese ship (watch the video here); while fierce anti-China protests broke out following China’s deployment of a billion-dollar oil rig in the disputed waters off the Vietnamese coast. Aquino said that the details of the pact were still being established and no date has been set for its signing yet.
The Philippines already has alliances with the United States and Japan, who have also been critical of perceived Chinese expansionist moves in the South China Sea. Earlier this month, a top US navy commander expressed suspicions over China’s motives for building a ‘great wall of sand’ in the disputed waters.
The South China Sea has become a hotbed for political tension between the surrounding states, with overlapping claims by six parties (including Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan) centred mostly around fishing and oil rights.
A recent flashpoint occurred when the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs claimed they found ‘illegally collected corals, giant clams and live sharks’ taken from the Scarborough Shoal (or Huangyan Islands) upon inspecting a Chinese vessel in 2012. China maintained sovereignty over the islands according to its ‘nine-dash line’ philosophy, causing Manila to refer the matter for arbitration by an ad hoc arbitral tribunal under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. A decision could be delivered within six months or by early next year, however, Beijing has refused to take part and is unlikely to acknowledge the decision.
The Philippine President has been known to raise the ire of the Chinese government. Last year, Aquino came under attack for comparing China’s machinations in the South China Sea (or West Philippine Sea as he would have it called) to that of Nazi Germany’s demands prior to World War II.
By Liam Bourke