On October 21, Vietnam and the Philippines convened the eighth meeting of their bilateral cooperation committee. The deliberations focused on specific measures for advancing collaboration as the two ASEAN states are expected to lift ties to a strategic partnership next month.
This iteration of the Vietnam-Philippines Bilateral Cooperation Committee, which is held biennially, was co-chaired by Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario and his counterpart Pham Binh Minh.
The holding of the meeting comes at an important time in the evolution of the relationship. As I reported earlier, Vietnam and the Philippines are expected to ink a strategic partnership on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leader’s summit in Manila next month (See: “Philippines, Vietnam to Ink Strategic Partnership By End of 2015”). Indeed, close observers know that parts of a draft joint statement had even been leaked earlier this year.
In addition, 2016 marks the 40th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations between the two countries. Apart from the usual celebrations, such anniversaries also provide an opportunity to inject new vigor into ties and push through new avenues for cooperation.
During the meeting, the two sides reviewed the results from their last meeting in 2013 and suggested new measures to boost ties in the coming years. On economic relations, according to local media outlets, both countries agreed on a two-way trade target of over $3 billion by 2016. They are also expected to sign off on a protocol to amend a current pact on rice trade when Vietnamese president Truong Tan Sang visits the Philippines for APEC next month. Additional areas discussed for future cooperation included agriculture and fisheries, science and technology, and people-to-people exchanges.
On the security side, areas for further collaboration discussed include terrorism, cyber crime and piracy, search and rescue operations, United Nations Peacekeeping operations and the South China Sea, where both have been the more active among the four ASEAN claimants. The two sides placed priority on the signing of an agreement on extradition and handover of prisoners. More specifics could also be unveiled in the coming months leading up to the expected visit of the Philippine secretary of national defense to Hanoi in 2016.
Apart from discussing future cooperation, Minh and del Rosario also looked ahead to the expected inking of their strategic partnership next month. “Upgrading the Vietnam-Philippines relationship to a new height will not only push forward more bilateral ties, but it will also make a positive contribution to peace, co-operation and development in the region, as well as unity within ASEAN,” Minh stressed.
Following the committee meeting, del Rosario also met Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. Both spoke about the importance of elevating relations between the two countries as important stakeholders in the management of the South China Sea, as well as the development of the ASEAN Community, which ASEAN had pledged to establish by the end of 2015.
The ninth meeting of the Bilateral Cooperation Committee will be held in the Philippines in 2017.